Choosing Wisely – Workers Compensation Insurance for Small Business

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Let’s forget momentarily about the effect of compensation systems on health outcomes. Rather, lets consider the position of a small employer taking out workers compensation insurance in Tasmania i.e. a small business perspective. There is a requirement for such insurance, but how does the business make a choice between the various licensed insurers?

Usually small business use a broking firm or agent to advise them about insurance matters, but how much can your broker tell you?

Some employers, I hope most, would want an insurer that helps them look after their injured workers, not just the cheapest possible premium to meet their obligation to comply with the law.

MY PERSONAL “LEAGUE TABLES”

As a doctor working in the field, I am aware of the different approaches by the various insurers but, apart from insurance premium information, there is no other readily available information to help a small business choose their insurer, unless they have experience with claims to judge for themselves.

I have my own “League Table” of the various insurers based on my experience in dealing with those insurers as a doctor looking after injured workers. Interestingly my own table is quite similar to the ratings of other doctors who work in similar roles and the workplace rehabilitation providers who are prepared to share their own personal views on this subject.

I also have experience from discussions with insurers about communication protocols between my practice and those insurers. There is a wide divergence between insurers about how they are prepared to communicate with doctors. To me, this reflects on the willingness of the insurer to engage and participate in a team process to assist recovery and return to work. Some insurers behave in a way which suggests that believe they should have ultimate control over all aspects of management of the case, including which practitioners provide treatment, the scope of practitioner treatment and management of the worker’s rehabilitation. While the insurers in Tasmania can ultimately be financially responsible for associated costs, I believe there needs to be cooperation and respect for the role of others in the process, whose responsibility is to the welfare of their patients.

In my own practice we have introduced Adverse Event Reporting. Over the last 12 months we have flagged about one adverse event each month. Of the 11 events, 6 occurred with the State Service Scheme, 2 with Allianz Insurance and a single event for Comcare, GIO Insurance and a self-insurer. Most interestingly, the category of event that predominated were issues relating to management of the claim (5 occurrences) compared to 4 occurrences relating primarily to the workplace and the remaining 2 occurrences relating to rehabilitation issues and medical complications. The consequences of the events ranged from minor setbacks to the workers mental health through to significant periods of incapacity for work and even extended psychiatric hospital admission. Luckily there were no suicides in this small group. While the numbers are small and the sample from this practice is probably significantly biased, it does provide a glimpse into the operation of workers compensation systems in Tasmania.

If such reporting was adopted more widely, useful information would be available to all scheme participants.

WIRO PUBLISHING COMPLAINTS

In New South Wales, the Workers Compensation Independent Review Office (WIRO), now publishes a range of information in their regular WIRO Solutions Brief, including a breakdown of complaints by Insurer. The table below from December 2016 illustrates the type of information publicly available in New South Wales.

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NSW WC Data Dec 2016 – Source WIRO Solutions Bulletin February 2017

LIFE INSURANCE COMPANIES PUBLISHING DISPUTE & REJECTION RATES

In the wake of public concerns about the Life Insurance industry, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) prepared a report in late 2016, Life insurance claims: An industry review that detailed declined claim rates and claim outcome rates for a range of insurance products.

The most marked variation in rates between insurers occurred with Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) claims as illustrated by the table below.

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-8-03-18-pmCOMPETITION PRINCIPLES

An important market principle is that consumers, in this case employers, can make an informed choice about how they support their workers who are injured in the course of their work. It should not simply be a choice based on price, but take into account the employer’s approach to human resource management.

At present only limited information is publicly available about the approaches taken by various insurers to managing claims from injured workers. The cheapest premium might save money up front, but consideration also needs to be to the less obvious and long term costs associated with an aggressive approach by their insurer in disputing claims or complicating access to medical and rehabilitation management.

CONCLUSIONS

WorkCover Tasmania publishes data about scheme performance. In the Scheme Review to 30 June 2016, there is separate analysis of data for the Tasmanian State Service, Self-Insurers and Private Licensed Insurers, but it would help employers, especially small employers without the experience of previous claims, to make an informed choice if scheme performance data was broken down further, separating out the private insurers. The insurers provide the data, so I wouldn’t expect that to be too difficult. It is already occurring in other jurisdictions.

Introduction of new measures of actual health outcomes and adverse events could also be considered, again broken down by insurer.

Perhaps Worker Assist could provide some data as well?

The measures would help small business CHOOSE WISELY in relation to important aspects of human resource management, the health and wellbeing of their employees injured at work.

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About Tasworkdoc

As an occupational physician in private medical practice in Hobart, Tasmania - the southernmost state of Australia, I see workers referred by their general practitioners with various types of work-related injuries and diseases. These are mostly musculoskeletal injuries, both of traumatic and gradual onset as well as various associated psychological disorders. With interaction with patients for treatment and providing advice about rehabilitation, I have the opportunity, first-hand, to observe interactions between individual patients and compensation systems. I also conduct independent medical assessments, including impairment assessments for musculoskeletal injuries and asbestos-related disease compensation. This provides another perspective of workers within compensation systems.
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One Response to Choosing Wisely – Workers Compensation Insurance for Small Business

  1. Tasworkdoc says:

    Since writing this article I have received some informal feedback from small business representatives. The concern expressed was about the high frequency of unjustified claims for compensation (and other industrial issues) where employees are unhappy at work for any reason, even if the problems did not relate their work. The assumption being that the employees involved did not have a justifiable claim. There might be a mis-match here about employer expectations of what is reasonable and the legal situation, although there are clear exclusions in the legislation where ‘stress’ claimed as work-related is due to reasonable management action in relation to employment i.e. recruitment, work performance and promotion.

    Perhaps in some situations a ‘dispute-orientated’ approach might be justified. Some employers, in those situations, might want to choose an insurer with a high rate of disputation, although I would hesitate to suggest that a high disputation rate as a positive performance indicator for insurers.

    I am looking forward to more small business feedback.

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