Adjuster X

A Tale of Turbulence

By: | November 1, 2013 • 3 min read

This column is based on the experiences of a group of long-time claims adjusters. The situations they describe are real, but the names and key details are kept confidential. Michelle Kerr is the editor of this column and can be reached at [email protected]

The loss report for Gloria, a 47-year-old flight attendant, noted a left-hand strain from securing a beverage cart during air turbulence, and also carpal tunnel syndrome. Gloria had received initial treatment at a 24-hour clinic, but the clinic wouldn’t provide details without a signed HIPAA release.

The flight log confirmed episodic turbulence. A co-worker saw Gloria’s cart roll backwards, but never saw it touch her.

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Within two days, the employer received an attorney letter of representation, and a request for payment of temporary total disability. We acknowledged the representation and asked Gloria to sign a HIPAA release. I assigned a nurse case manager but she didn’t get responses from the attorney.

Our claim representative learned Gloria had three group claims involving lost time related to stress due to a divorce and a child’s car accident. The ISO query of prior accidents ran eight pages covering nine years, including three falls in retail stores with multiple body parts injured; a fall on ice in a parking lot with neck, arm and leg injuries; and four back, hand and knee claims when she worked for other airlines. Prior to this incident, she had three workers’ compensation claims with her current employer involving back and hands. Follow-up requests for more detailed information were sent to the other carriers noted on the reports.

By now, the first lost-time payment was due. But all we knew was that a cart had rolled and may or may not have struck Gloria. The attorney was unresponsive. I decided not to issue a check, citing lack of substantiating medical information. Letters were sent to Gloria, her attorney and the employer. It was another month until we received the HIPAA release and permission for nurse case management.

The case manager’s report described an individual who was focused on being injured and took a lot of pain medication. Gloria had been hospitalized more than two dozen times — half of those involved hand or knee surgery. The case manager felt she had psychosocial impediments to returning to work. She was taking high doses of antidepressants and had a victim mentality. Gloria felt certain she needed carpal tunnel surgery, which she blamed on the airline’s equipment. The case manager suggested medical evaluations on the causal relationship of carpal tunnel and a psychologist referral.

Our attorney recommended that we pay the accrued indemnity benefits for the hand injury to avoid penalties and fines. But he deferred judgment on the carpal tunnel syndrome. We agreed Gloria appeared to have psychological issues.

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The reports we received painted a disturbing picture. Hospital records cited 911 calls to Gloria’s home as a result of injuries to her hands while peeling potatoes. On another, she had fallen, admitting use of sleep medications and pain relievers. Surveillance showed her performing manual labor at her house.

All parties agreed that Gloria was setting the stage for a finding of permanent and total disability. Although we could have fought to defeat the claim, we felt that settlement was the best fiscal strategy. By leveraging the medical and psychological reports as well as the surveillance, we were able to settle the case. We took credit for indemnity paid and agreed to three years of future comp. It wasn’t a dream ending, but at least it wasn’t even more of a nightmare.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]