National Comp Session Identifies Three Regulatory Trends Impacting the Industry in 2022 and into 2023

A session at 2021 National Comp discussed which trends and issues will be prominent in both 2022 and beyond.
By: | November 9, 2021

The last two years have certainly introduced risks that weren’t previously on the top of many lists. Now, these risks have created the regulatory issues and trends that are likely to consume 2022, and potentially 2023.

This was the topic of a session at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference (National Comp) held in Las Vegas last month.

The session, “The Regulatory Issues & Trends to Watch in 2022,” discussed rulings and events that have created regulatory trends in the workers’ compensation space.

Speakers Ben Roberts, VP, utilization review, Genex; Brian Allen, vice president governmental affairs, Mitchell; Michele Hibbert, senior VP regulatory compliance management, Mitchell; and Lisa Anne Bickford, director, government relations, Coventry, discussed how these trends will play a major role in how the industry will operate in the coming year.

Among the most prominent of trends for professionals to keep their eyes on include impact from the pandemic, growing use of legalized medical marijuana, managed care, and telemedicine.

Below are three major trends industry professionals are keeping an eye on into 2022 and 2023.

1) Marijuana Legalization

This trend should come as no surprise to those in the workers’ comp space as the legalization of marijuana passed in several states in 2020 and 2021. This issue will be notable for leaders at both state and federal levels to take note of.

As cannabis legalization becomes more common, workers’ comp payers will likely be paying the most attention to states where medical marijuana is legal to see whether or not the drug will be considered reimbursable under workers’ compensation.

So far, six states allow workers’ comp insurers to cover the drug while another six ban the practice. As marijuana legalization continues, mandates determining state reimbursement for medical marijuana use will also be important to watch.

That doesn’t mean payers should ignore recreational legalization, however. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for increased marijuana sales, Allen noted. In fact, marijuana sales hit record levels throughout the pandemic.

As more Americans engage in recreational marijuana use, workers’ comp professionals need remain appraised of the safety risks the drug poses if it is abused in the workplace.

In the meantime, new developments will continue to occur. Allen noted that the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, an attempt by some U.S. senators to find support for marijuana legalization at the federal level, will only make the issue more relevant.

2) COVID-19 Presumption Laws

COVID-19 presumption laws not only created a new and impactful trend, but it could set a precedent for other viruses in the future. Additionally, workers’ comp professionals should look at the effect presumption laws will have on worker classifications.

“COVID accelerated, and really expanded, what was traditionally a well-defined group of employees,”  Roberts said. This became especially pertinent as many cities across the U.S. had to foster discussion around which jobs qualified under public safety work, thus granting eligibility under the presumption law.

For many, this became an issue of who exactly would receive coverage, assuming they contract COVID-19 on the job. Some presumptions limited coverage to essential workers, while others were more broad.

The pandemic also broadened presumption law eligibility, something that was “historically very narrow in scope,” Bickford said.

3) The Future of Telemedicine

It’s not breaking news that the pandemic heightened the need for a swift transition to the use of telemedicine as a primary method of receiving care.

While it made strides throughout the worst of the pandemic, workers’ comp professionals can expect to start seeing “backpedaling by some states,” Hibbert said.

This is due to the decreased utilization of telemedicine capabilities as returning to doctors’ offices has become more feasible this year. In turn, this impacts insurance reimbursement for telemedicine practices.

Telemedicine regulation on the federal level has also been altered since the beginning of the pandemic. While it served as a lifeline when COVID-19 first hit, it now must improve its offerings in order to remain a staple component of health care deliverables.

The definition of telemedicine will also factor into whether or not it’s considered a reimbursable expense by insurers. Bickford noted an instance in the state of Texas, where telemedicine was adopted but telerehabilitation was excluded from those offerings.

She also said that the future of telemedicine in terms of its regulation is murky and will be something for professionals to monitor in 2022.

Other Trends to Watch

Other notable trends that panelists mentioned throughout the session included drug price transparency, the elimination of in-person only procedures and the continuation of worker shortages.

A positive effect could derive from the challenge of worker shortages, however. Panelists suggested that the increased lack of workers could lead to a sense of empowerment among current workers, which could serve as a catalyst for legislation around more employee benefits.

In closing, Allen urged attendees to make themselves heard by politicians, especially as these predicted trends and issues expand in 2022.

“[Politicians and legislators] need to know how much [workers’ comp professionals] care about the injured worker,” he said. &

Emma Brenner is a staff writer with Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected].

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