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Q&A: John W. Ruser, Workers Compensation Research Institute

Q&A: John W. Ruser, Workers Compensation Research Institute

John W. Ruser is the president and CEO of the Workers Compensation Research Institute, an independent, nonprofit research organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to his designation as president in January, he held the position of executive director when he joined the organization in May 2015. Mr. Ruser has also worked for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Mr. Ruser recently spoke with Business Insurance Staff Reporter Donna Mahoney about his goals and the WCRI's efforts to bring useful information to the workers compensation community. Edited excerpts follow.

Q: What attracted you to the WCRI?

A: Its reputation, its clear mission to improve workers compensation systems and its focus on research. It's great to be working with such an intelligent and talented group of colleagues who are committed to publishing high-quality, credible and independent research. Along those lines, what has been most eye-opening has been the tremendous support for the research from stakeholders in the workers compensation community. That support indicates the value they attach to the work that we do.

Q: What is one of your goals for the next year in your new position as president?

A: My main goal moving forward is to continue producing credible, independent and high quality research, while identifying new impactful areas of research. 

Producing impactful research means providing research findings that are used in public policy debates to improve workers comp systems. The research that I described previously is in areas that we believe are getting a substantial amount of attention in the policy arena.  Also important is our suite of core benchmarking studies that allow stakeholders to make comparisons of workers comp system performance across states and within a state over time. These studies allow stakeholders in a state to answer questions such as how does my state workers comp system compare to others according to a wide variety of metrics? Also, how has my state been doing over time?

Our research tends to be very scholarly and technical. One goal of mine is to provide new products that are consistent with our rigor but that reach a broader set of stakeholders. We will experiment with research briefs and videos that crisply deliver our research findings.

Q: What are the main workers comp issues that the WCRI will research this year?

A: Over the next two years, we plan to conduct research on treatment guidelines. First, we'll catalog how treatment guidelines are implemented across states and describe their general characteristics. With that information, we can then assess impact of guidelines on procedures, costs and injured-worker outcomes.

With regard to worker outcomes, we intend to expand our set of worker outcome surveys that assess how injured workers fare in the workers compensation system. These important surveys measure workers' recovery of health, access to medical care, return-to-work timing and earnings loss.

There has also been a lot of interest in how health care markets are impacting workers compensation. We will look at the impact of the growth of high-deductible group health plans on case shifting to workers compensation, and also assess the impact of the growth in accountable care organizations and the consolidation of health care on workers compensation prices.

Q: What do you enjoy most about working for the WCRI?

A: One of the things that I enjoy most about working for WCRI is that while having a mission similar to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ... in providing objective information and research, we are able to focus that research and information where the public policy debates are occurring. As a result, we make a tangible difference in improving workers compensation systems and the outcomes of injured workers.



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