Warning: What You Know About Cannabis May Actually Be Wrong

Broadspire’s Marcos Iglesias and attorney Stuart Colburn will help employers and payers separate cannabis fact from cannabis fiction at NWCDC in Las Vegas.
By: | October 19, 2018 • 3 min read

With Canada now officially the Land of Legal Cannabis, the U.S. is likely not far behind. Currently, recreational cannabis is legal in nine U.S. states plus Washington, DC, and 30 states have medical marijuana laws in place. The time for taking a wait-and-see approach has passed.

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Employers, insurers and professionals across the workers’ comp industry need an informed and thoughtful approach to employees’ use of cannabis and its potential impact on workplace safety and workers’ comp claims.

But getting accurate information is a challenge. One major reason is that cannabis cultivation has changed in recent years, resulting in a product that’s significantly different from what past researchers based their conclusions on.

“Take just the THC component of marijuana,” said Marcos Iglesias, senior vice president and chief medical officer, Broadspire. “In the 1990s, we were dealing with concentrations of 3 to 4 percent. Today we’re dealing with concentrations of 20 to 30
percent
. How do you apply [existing research] when you have studies that are 10 years old or even 20 years old? It’s a different drug altogether.”

Marcos Iglesias, senior vice president and chief medical officer, Broadspire

The internet can provide a virtually endless supply of information about cannabis. But it can be difficult to discern how much of it is false, misleading or conflicting. Misinformation is spread from source to source, creating a perception of fact. Even experts speaking in professional forums often don’t have a thorough grasp of the facts, said Iglesias.

“Some of the misconceptions include ‘medical and recreational marijuana are 2 different products.’ They’re not. ‘CBD is legal.’ ‘Cannabis addiction is rare.’ On a lot of these things, I think we need to have a frank and evidence-based conversation as opposed to ‘I read somewhere …’ or ‘I heard somewhere …’ ” he said.

Iglesias said he will be unpacking several of these misconceptions at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference in Las Vegas in December, at a session entitled “Marijuana, Workers’ Compensation and Disability: What’s the Science and the Law?” Iglesias will address the scientific side of the issue, while attorney Stuart Colburn, shareholder with Downs Stanford, will address the legal and regulatory side of it.

“In the 1990s, we were dealing with concentrations of 3 to 4 percent. Today we’re dealing with concentrations of 20 to 30 percent. How do you apply [existing research] when you have studies that are 10 years old or even 20 years old? It’s a different drug altogether.” — Marcos Iglesias, senior vice president and chief medical officer, Broadspire

“This is the unknown, and everything is in conflict,” said Colburn.

“Federal law says you are not allowed to pay for marijuana or use marijuana. And yet we have 6 states that require an insurance company to pay for or reimburse an injured worker for marijuana. How do we resolve that conflict for an employer and an insurance company?”

Employers and payers in staunchly anti-cannabis states may not be able to stay out of the fray much longer. Consider that a few months prior to the passage of Canada’s legal cannabis law, 68 percent of Canadians favored legalization. Currently, 64 percent of Americans support legalization according to a Gallup poll.

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“We have probably passed the tipping point here in the U.S. that marijuana is being accepted,” said Colburn. “[Legal recreational use laws] are now passing, not just blue states but they’re even passing in red states.”

Iglesias said his goal for the NWCDC presentation is to help people get a better handle on the facts and issues, so that they can make better informed decisions about how to approach the road ahead.

“What I’m trying to do is focus people on what is it that we actually do know … what don’t we know, what are the gaps that we need to fill so that we can have a better understanding and develop better policy.” &

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

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]