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View from the Top: Michael Bourque, MEMIC Group

View from the Top: Michael Bourque, MEMIC Group

Workers compensation insurer MEMIC Group in May announced that company veteran Michael Bourque will replace retiring President and CEO John Leonard in September. The incoming CEO spoke to Business Insurance Deputy Editor Gloria Gonzalez about the Portland, Maine-based insurer’s expansion into other states and key challenges in the workers comp field, particularly in Florida, where two state Supreme Court decisions have upended the workers comp system. Edited excerpts follow.

Q: First off, congratulations. This is a very exciting opportunity for you, I would imagine.

A: Coming at a time when the company is succeeding on all fronts, the board I don’t believe hired me to come in to make a lot of big changes. Certainly to continue the success we had is what my plan is. We’ve grown by 70% over the last five years, from 2012 to 2016, in terms of written premium. We have our home office here in Maine, and we have about 66% of the commercial market in Maine, but we have lots of places to grow in the markets up and down the East Coast. We’re in four of the seven largest workers comp markets in the country — that includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida. There’s a lot of opportunity for us in those places where we’re just becoming known as a workers comp specialty company that really does focus on the prevention effort and really knows workers comp very well.

Q: Florida’s a state that we follow quite closely in terms of some of the recent developments in the workers comp space. What’s your sense of the Florida workers comp system at this point?

A: There’s a lot going on in Florida, that’s for sure. It was very good news when the court determined that (the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc.’s) rate increase could stand. We think that was absolutely necessary for the Florida market in general. We’ve seen what’s happened since that court case, and you’ve seen the filing of petitions from attorneys increase considerably, and I think that’s something you have to keep an eye on. Frankly, I think if you don’t specialize in workers comp and you’re not paying close attention, I think you could get yourself in trouble. I think we’re perhaps uniquely able to deal with that, being specialists in comp and having a pretty good understanding of where some of the pitfalls might be, but having unlimited attorney fees is a real challenge and something that we’ll have to monitor. But so far, I think we’re still feeling good about Florida. We’re feeling good about the progress we made, and we know there’s opportunity there within the target markets that we’re in. We remain excited about it, but we’re keeping a close eye.

Q: Are there any other states that you’re watching carefully in terms of developments in the workers comp space?

A: We’re always watching all of them. But I think Florida is the one where the most news is happening, where those two cases really threw things into a spin for a while last year and it took a while for some people to sort out. I think we’re always looking long term, and so we will endure some blips to be a long-term player in the market, to be there for our agents and customers when they need us, and so we don’t consider ourselves especially reactionary. I think we’ve analyzed markets closely as we’ve gone in and looked at the fundamentals, and I don’t see any real big challenges in these other states that are as volatile as what we’ve seen in Florida.

Q: What does the aging of the population generally mean from a workers comp perspective for your firm?

A: Well, that’s a challenge also. It means recovery times for injured workers who are older tend to be longer. Certainly, we’ve had several catastrophic injuries that have occurred to workers who are 65 or 70 or older, and understanding that people are staying in the workforce longer and that the population in general is aging. I think we’ve got to do a very good job with safety programs. On the one hand, you have people who are experienced and generally know how to do their jobs. On the other hand, maybe they can’t do what they quite used to do, and having employers be able to acknowledge and work with that I think is something that’s important. Our home state, Maine, is the oldest state (by age of population) in the country, and so we have experience in dealing with some folks who are aging in the workplace and helping them to avoid injury in the first place and to get back when they do get hurt.

Q: Obviously, opioids is a big topic in the workers comp space. What do you think needs to happen to help address the impact of the opioids epidemic?

A: I think it starts with the doctors, and I think many of them are getting the word now and understanding fully the damage that these things can do when they’re perhaps prescribed short term but become long term in terms of their usage. We’re seeing laws in various states that are coming into place that are telling doctors that they can only prescribe for a short duration for acute pain and for chronic pain; most of them are usually 30 days. Understanding that and I think taking into account the new chronic pain guidelines, which were just released recently from the (American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine), that really talks about ways to avoid that kind of use of opioids. I think everybody is becoming more attentive. You really just have to work at it and be willing to invest the resources because the good news is you can combat it when you work at it.

Q: The other issue that we hear quite a bit about is opt out, and I’m curious about your thoughts overall on opt out.

A: I think it’s a dangerous trend in terms of what it would offer for injured workers. I think what we see is that it doesn’t provide the same protection or comparable protection. I think it becomes all about cost as opposed to being about taking care of employees. I’m sort of alarmed that it ever happened to begin with, but heartened by the fact that some courts have found that this is truly not an equal type of coverage.


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