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Mobile workforce, Medicare rules among key workers comp challenges: Panelists


Emerging risks associated with mobile workforces, lagging claim closure rates and the potential impact of congressional deficit negotiations are some of the critical issues shaping the workers compensation landscape, a panel of experts said.

Nearly half of U.S. companies have employees working either from home or on the road. As that percentage trends upward, the injury risks and claims issues associated with offsite workforces, as raised in recent court decisions in favor of workers injured in their homes, are getting employers’ attention, panelists said Thursday at Business Insurance’s Workers Comp Cost Control Strategies online conference.

“It’s a whole new world that we’re facing, and it’s a growing trend as more and more companies are allowing employees to work at home,” said Mark Walls, assistant vp of claims for Safety National in St. Louis, who spoke as part of a session on hot topics that featured prominent workers comp bloggers. “We’re just going to see more and more of this in the future,” Mr. Walls said.

The slowing pace of closure in workers comp claims is also taking a toll on employers, the panelists said. One particularly vexing issue is that of claims left open indefinitely as an alternative to paying out fixed amounts for medical treatment required by Medicare.

“You can’t do this in some states,” said Thomas Lynch, founder and president of Lynch, Ryan & Associates Inc. in Wellesley, Mass. But because Medicare payments can take several months to determine, Mr. Lynch said “it might be in other states’ interest to consider outlawing the settlement of the medical portion of a workers compensation claim,” thereby removing the temptation for companies to keep the claim open for the lifespan of the injured employee.

Congressional deficit negotiations also could produce significant changes to workers compensation, particularly where it intersects with Medicare.

Joseph Paduda, a principal at Health Strategy Associates in Madison, Conn., said he believes there is a strong chance Congress could impose drastic cuts in the reimbursements Medicare currently pays to health care providers and pharmaceutical companies.

If that happens, “providers who are giving up revenue from Medicare are going to be looking to make up that revenue in other places,” Mr. Paduda said. “Workers comp is a pretty soft target.”

The virtual conference, including webcasts and downloads, will be available on demand starting Friday. Register here to view the event.