Workers’ Comp Industry Leaders Are Hopeful for the Post-COVID World — Find Out Why

National Comp's One-Day Virtual Event leads with a dynamic CEO panel focused on turning our challenges into strengths in a post-COVID world.
By: | October 12, 2020

The National Workers Compensation and Disability Conference  — National Comp — is going virtual this year, with a one-day event on October 21, followed by an ongoing digital session series throughout the year.

Opening the conference this year is a top-level leadership panel focused on the uncertain world around us, still in the thick of the pandemic, and where we can find opportunities to grow and change, and become more resilient as we head into 2021.

The featured panelists include: Joseph Berardo Jr., CEO of Carisk Partners; Mike Hessling, CEO, North America, with Gallagher Bassett; and David Young, President and CEO of Optum. The panel will be moderated by Denise Zoe Algire, Director of Risk Initiatives and National Medical Director for Albertsons Companies. 

Takeaways for a Post-COVID World

Joe Berardo Jr., CEO, Carisk Partners

While the panelists will primarily spend the hour delineating five critical challenges, the takeaway remains hopeful.  

For Berardo, that is the shared obligation to evolve. “As an industry we must continue to morph,” he said.

“Specifically, continued increased awareness of how behavioral and mental health is perhaps the most impactful risk factor impacting an injured workers’ recovery. COVID has put a spotlight on issues like PTSD. Without a focus on the ‘whole person,’ we will never achieve optimal clinical outcomes. My hope is that a new generation of leaders will continue to expedite the advocacy approach to injured workers’ recovery.” 

For his part, Young agreed, noting that workers’ comp has the potential to be an agile partner for stakeholders around the risk industry.

“I would hope they would take away the need to rethink the industry as a whole, our nimbleness, and really the way that we approach uncertainty,” Young said.

“Obviously the risk business is usually about certainty and we’re in very uncertain times. I think we need to take a step back and really look at processes, predictors, and evaluate those for the current situation.” 

Financial Impacts

COVID will obviously weigh heavily on the discussion, and beyond the important and ever- increasing mental health impacts of the pandemic to which Berardo refers, the financial ones are a similar strain for both individuals and businesses. 

Mike Hessling, CEO, North America, Gallagher Bassett

A working paper from the Massachusetts-based National Bureau of Economic Research using a SIR (epidemiological) model argued that, “even putting aside concerns about public health, it appears that there is a significant economic tradeoff whether or not we impose social distancing — the economic costs of strong social distancing measures imposed for an entire 12-18 months on the one hand or the economic costs of a large cumulative burden of lost work time (and life) due to the disease. Which option would have the more severe economic consequences is hard to determine.”

This remained true for all scenarios the Bureau investigated, and they note that the as yet undetermined disease prevalence will alter the forecast considerably.

At one percent, the health care system is “severely challenged.” At 10 percent, “severe staffing shortages for key financial and economic infrastructure” may result. The CDC reports that COVID-19 prevalence in the United States currently stands at 4.8 percent, for the week ending September 26th, 2020.  

Our Changing Relationship with Work

In terms of our relationship with work itself, questions abound, and workers’ compensation coverage will have to strive to answer those questions.  

David Young, President and CEO, Optum Workers’ Compensation and Auto No-Fault

“I think COVID will materially change the way that people approach work longer term,” Young said.

“The Grand Experiment of working from home seems to be playing out well, what does that mean for the industry and where are there opportunities in that environment to enhance product offerings, look at different solution sets for what will become a very dynamic, diverse workforce. Geography is going to become something that is fungible in the future.” 

 Berardo agreed regarding the mutability of the defined workplace, adding that he predicts legislative activity “codifying the new workplace.”

Additionally, Berardo is intrigued by the growth of clinical COVID-specific programs as the pandemic touches more parts of the insurance engine. Even with those, he warned against complacency.  

 “It is important that we continue to look at all of the past, present and potential future medical and surgical and clinical and behavioral issues and ensure they are understood by care managers as we guide injured workers through their recovery plans,” he said.

“This includes past exposure to COVID and potential risk in the future. The fundamental approach to caring for the patient doesn’t change if you are already looking at the whole picture. If you are of the myopic mindset that your only concern is the injured body part then you are increasing your risk related to an adverse clinical, and therefore, financial outcome.” 

 A full 25 percent of Americans, according to Pew Social Trusts report a personal job loss or a job loss in their household due to COVID-19, and this is even worse for lower income Americans, who report a 47 percent rate of personal or household job loss.

As the economy recovers workers’ comp will likely experience a bounce back, even if delayed, as Risk & Insurance® has previously reported. 

 Additionally, nearly half of lower income workers across the country have had trouble paying bills, the same survey indicated, increasing the likelihood that service delivery when they do get back to work, and potentially become injured on the job, will be especially important.

“I think the industry has adapted really well and has provided stability in unstable times,” Young said.

“When we think about our business specifically, we adapted quickly to ensure that the services that are needed in the marketplace are available on the same size and scale as they were prior to the pandemic. And that comfort, knowing that you can get medical treatment, drugs, and supplies when they’re needed, provided a degree of comfort during uncomfortable times.”

 The current brand of uncertainty as it relates to COVID is hardly the first time, and won’t be the last time that workers’ comp has been forced to meet new challenges head on.  

For Hessling, unpredictable times can generate the best work. “We have the opportunity to set policies, having the experience in managing innumerable crises,” he said.

“Our ability to communicate and bring confidence to an injured worker in the face of their own uncertainty is unparalleled. And we have the ability to inform regulators on the impact of proposed changes, applicable to any industry. Our work is at the epicenter of the decisions that bring those matters together for any organization.” &

National Comp will present a special free one-day event on October 21, followed by an ongoing digital session series that runs through next fall.

The event will begin with an opening keynote, “The 5 Most Critical Challenges Facing Workers’ Comp in the COVID Era” at 11:00 a.m. ET and will continue throughout the day with four additional sessions and a closing panel discussion.

You can register for the conference’s virtual event and find out more information about the sessions here.

Nina Luckman is a business journalist based in New Orleans, focusing primarily on the workers' compensation industry. Over the last several years, Nina has served as Editor of Louisiana Comp Blog, a news site she started in 2014 under the auspices of a group self-insurance fund. She can be reached at [email protected].

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