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Focus on 5: The Biggest Issues in Workers Comp

The annual Focus on 5 survey reveals the top unknowns in the workers comp industry. Here's how leaders are taking proactive steps to answer these questions and keep their organizations ahead of the game.
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The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) recently revealed its annual “Focus on 5,” the definitive list of issues that are top of mind for workers compensation industry leaders. These are the critical questions that the more than 100 executives surveyed are asking:

1) Will insurers be able to react quickly enough to preserve rate adequacy if trends shift?

2) How does an aging and changing workforce affect key industry drivers, such as claims frequency and severity, along with wage and employment levels?

3) What does the future hold for medical costs given so many variables, such as emerging healthcare technology and treatments, issues related to opioids and marijuana in the workplace, and mega claims associated with seriously ill or injured workers?

4) Will the gig economy ever grow to the extent that it affects the traditional workforce? And will insurers develop innovative products to serve that market?

5) How will rapidly changing workplace technology affect American jobs and the workers comp industry? Can regulation and legislation keep pace?

Workers compensation leaders are taking proactive steps to answer these questions and keep their respective organizations ahead of the game. Here’s what they’re saying in response to these questions, and what they’re doing to address them:

1) Rate adequacy

What they’re saying: Leaders told NCCI they’re closely monitoring the sustained trend of declining loss costs reported by rating bureaus. They see competition for business changing and increasing, and they’re feeling the impact of slower growth due to lower premiums.

What they’re doing: To address rating adequacy, many are investing in predictive analytics to help with pricing and dedicating more resources to actuarial research and analysis. Insurers are closely evaluating and monitoring risks for the purposes of acceptability, pricing and coverage.

2) Aging/changing workforce

What they’re saying: Insurers are following the dynamics of the aging and changing workforce, and how it impacts claims frequency and severity. As more employees work beyond the traditional retirement age, there will be new complications in health coverages due to the more complex medical conditions of workers. Many are also monitoring the increase in hiring unskilled workers and how that impacts workplace safety.

What they’re doing: Insurers are spending more time educating others on the challenges of an aging workforce, while closely monitoring contract workers and following up on employer audits of their workforces. An overall focus on workplace safety and education remain important priorities in the new year.

3) Medical care costs

What they’re saying: Given rapid changes in medical technology and treatments, leaders are uncertain about this key component of workers comp costs and say it’s difficult to forecast where costs are heading. Though mega claims are infrequent, they can have an enormous, unexpected impact on costs. Amid the uncertainty, leaders remain focused on assuring adequate care for injured workers.

What they’re doing: Insurers are taking a variety of proactive steps, including working with physicians and specialists to ensure that they’re not overprescribing treatments or medications. They're enhancing claims systems to enable deeper analysis of complex medical cases. Some are promoting and partnering with providers on new, smart solutions, such as artificial intelligence and telemedicine.

4) The gig economy

What they’re saying: Many leaders wonder if the impacts of the gig economy are more hype than reality and if it will ever really grow to the point that it impacts workers compensation premium levels. Given that many states are considering or passing legislation on the gig economy, insurers are dealing with the complexity of regulation that varies from state to state. Seeing increasing numbers of independent contractors, they’re wondering, “How do we offer them benefits?”

What they’re doing: Survey respondents say they’re evaluating alternative coverage options for gig workers. Most are closely monitoring state legislative activity and court cases to stay abreast of these evolving workplace trends. Some insurers have established research teams specifically to track the evolution of the gig economy and other related socio-economic trends.

5) Rapidly changing technology

What they’re saying: Leaders are balancing the need to understand and address rapid technological changes in the workplace while recognizing that corresponding regulation is relatively slow in coming. They’re watching for any uptick in automation that could impact employment and payroll levels. They also say there’s an opportunity to generate better analytics as technology delivers more and better data sources.

What they’re doing: Insurers say that they’re adapting to new technology—and the opportunity that it provides—in a variety of ways, such as exploring wearable technology and the data it generates, and are considering alternatives for policy delivery systems for employers and their workers.

To learn more about workers comp issues affecting independent agents, register for a webinar,  "Workers Compensation: 5 Mistakes Every Agent Makes," which will take place next week, Wednesday, Feb 18 at 8 a.m. ET, as well as multiple times throughout the year.

The National Council on Compensation Insurance publishes its annual Focus on 5 survey results at the start of every year along with a summary of the research insights NCCI has developed throughout the year on those five key topics.

Founded in 1923, the mission of NCCI is to foster a healthy workers compensation system. In support of this mission, NCCI gathers data, analyzes industry trends, and provides objective insurance rate and loss cost recommendations. These activities—combined with a comprehensive set of tools and services—make NCCI the source you trust for workers compensation information. Visit NCCI for more insights content