These are the calm days before the coming storm. For most employers, workers comp falls under the "business as usual" category. If a worker is injured, the standard protocols are followed: secure medical treatment; report the claim; if it's convenient and not too difficult, bring the worker back on temporary modified duty. Sure, you will eventually pay for the losses in the form of higher premiums. But rates have been low for a long time. As for the experience mod, how high could it possibly go?
Pretty high! NCCI's new rating plan will roll across the country throughout 2013, beginning in January in a handful of states and finishing up in Utah at the year's end. Employers who pay attention to these things know that primary losses - the most expensive dollars in every claim - are doubling from the current cap of $5,000 to $10,000 in 2013, and eventually going up to $15,000 by 2015. It sounds a bit ominous, but it's still way off in the future, right?
The future is now. Most employers are currently operating in policy year (PY) 2012, which began sometime between January 1 and today. The losses under this policy will not be included in the experience mod until PY 2014 and they will remain in the calculations through PY 2016. In other words, the increased primary losses in these calculations have already been incurred - not only for PY 12, but going back as far as PY 09. The future rating plan, in other words, is not only with us, it's behind us!
What Should Be Done?
Employers who want to stay on top of their insurance costs need to ratchet up their loss control programs. The best injury is the one that never occurs. And for those moments when a safety program fails, employers need to enhance their post-injury management programs, which should include:
- Employee awareness on hazards and safety
- Supervisor training in immediate post-injury response
- A relationship with a quality occupational medical provider
- Prompt reporting of all injuries to the insurer
- An effective and aggressive temporary modified duty program
- Accident analysis to prevent recurrence
To be sure, these key elements are no different from what was needed under the current rating system. But the situation is about to change dramatically. With primary losses doubling and eventually tripling, the need to manage claims from day one has become much more important. Under the current system, the "heavy losses" end at $5,000. Going forward, the heavy losses push much deeper into each claim and will come back to haunt employers in future experience mods.
Waiting Periods: No Time for Waiting!
For employers in states managed directly by NCCI, there is an opportunity to reduce primary losses substantially. If injured employees can be brought back to work - in regular or modified jobs - before the end of the waiting period, the medical-only costs associated with the claim will be discounted by 70%. Waiting periods vary from state to state, with the shortest running for three days and the longest for seven. Once the waiting period is over, out-of-work employees are eligible for indemnity (lost wage) payments and the discount disappears.
So here is some free - and, if I must say so, extremely valuable - advice: do everything humanly possible to bring injured workers back to work before the end of the waiting period. Even if medical bills run to thousands of dollars, the total amount of these primary losses will be reduced by 70% - if, and only if, return to work occurs before indemnity kicks in.
This may not seem important today, but once the experience rating sheets for PY 2014 and beyond start to hit the your desk, you will see the wisdom of this preventive action. The experience rating changes may still be months away, but you are already operating under the new rules. For those who remain oblivious to what is already happening, the future may be dark and ominous indeed.