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CHICAGO — A bar graph should be all a company needs to see that a return-to-work program for injured workers is the best way to reduce workers compensation spend, according to a panel at the CLM & Business Insurance Workers Compensation Conference on Thursday in Chicago.
At the center of the discussion was the return-to work-program put in place in 2011 at Sodexo Inc., Paris-based provider of integrated food and facilities management, vending and other services. In the United States, Sodexo employs more than 150,000 employees at 3,100 sites in all 50 states; it averages about 6,000 workers compensation claims, according to panelist Gary Toth, Sodexo’s director of claims management who works in its Gaithersburg, Maryland, North American headquarters.
Focusing on return to work and creating a workflow for the company’s team of return-to-work managers who would track and assist an injured worker from the time of accident to recuperation has helped shave an average of $8 million to $12 million annually in temporary total disability claim costs, said Mr. Toth, sitting alongside three key players in the company’s development of its program.
“Selling senior management on a return to work program is easy to do once you show them the savings,” he said. “The linchpin is cost containment.”
Most workers comp claims that are not ushered along at the onset of the injury tend to cost more, he said. “One of the things we decided to do was to show management about what the costs were with return to work (with) better control of a claim,” he said.
Carol Ungaretti, Chicago-based managing consultant with Aon Global Risk Consulting who helped develop Sodexo’s program, said from there the company sought the help of frontline managers — some 10,000 of them — to help develop a program.
“I don’t want to understate the fact that putting this into place, the foundation … was at least 18 months of very intense meetings,” she said, encouraging attendees to explore options for return to work. “If it’s doable at this level, it’s doable anywhere.”
Jeremy Yingling, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based account principal with Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., said the coordination — often a hurdle when developing programs that could be considered redundant among claims handlers — was complex, but feasible.
“We all sort of believe in the program,” he said. “We are a low-ego, collaborative environment; if there is problem, we throw it on the table and figure out the best way forward for everyone.”
Convincing frontline managers was another hurdle, said Mr. Toth, adding that traditionally some managers saw return to work as a “drain on efficiency.”
Sodexo’s program is hinged on the work of two return to work coordinators, he said, whose responsibilities include managing transition, educating providers on return-to-work goals and benefits, collaborating with employers, establishing reasonable timeframes that include 90 days of transitional duty, and regularly contacting providers on treatment plans, according to a slide outlining the program.
The company then tracks overall program progress monthly, classifying where claims are in the process and identifying concerns such as when an injured worker refuses to go to work or when a manager can’t accommodate the worker, or when a doctor does not approve return to work, or treatment is stalled — all traditional roadblocks when handling a comp claim.
The issues are handled by the return-to-work coordinators, who can intervene and mitigate problematic cases, according to Mr. Toth, displaying a sample “monthly benchmarking” report.
And while the company benefits from the cost containment, the program is at its core “employee centric” in that it helps get a worker back on track, said Ms. Ungaretti. “Someone being off work and getting them back is common for us (who work in comp), but for that employee, not being able to go back to work is a very important point in the cycle of the claim. I think the program was deliberately designed to be employee-centric.”
Between 11% and 18% of injured workers in 15 states do not return to work within a year of their accident, a range that is in line with previous studies, according to reports released Tuesday by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.