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Comp payers help injured workers ahead of storms

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Workers compensation insurers and third-party administrators are turning their focus to medicine and mobility for injured workers as they see natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires approach areas where claimants live.

Insurance executives said the trend falls in line with the industry’s move toward advocacy for injured workers.

Injured workers “are dealing with a lot of turmoil obviously when they go through a situation like this (and) we know that peace of mind is important for the ultimate outcome of their recovery,” said Rich Ives, Hartford, Connecticut-based vice president of claims for workers compensation at Travelers Cos. Inc., which contacts claimants in disaster-risk areas to provide early interventions.

Similarly, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. and its third-party administrator unit, Helmsman Management Services LLC, now have in place a “catastrophe playbook,” a step-by-step plan to assist injured workers who are potentially in harm’s way by ensuring they have what they need — prescription medications, for example — to survive any disruption and have a plan to evacuate, all the while ensuring Liberty Mutual can contact them at a temporary location.

“The unprecedented events of 2017 were really the impetus behind (creating the playbook),” said Wesley Hyatt, Boston-based senior vice president and manager of workers compensation claims for Liberty Mutual and Helmsman, referring to the record number of wildfires in California and major hurricanes that hit the Gulf region and the Caribbean.

The idea for addressing the “unique” needs of injured workers, who might need medication or help with relocating for medical services, came from the property line of business, according to Ms. Hyatt.

“We are a diversified company with auto, property (and) we are proud of what our property (department) does when there are storms,” she said. “We thought, there is more we can do in workers comp when we have injured workers living in those areas.”

One step in the plan is to ensure injured workers have their prescriptions refilled, even if it means overriding limits and other restrictions, she said. Other insurers say this is part of their storm-preparation plan.

Travelers will contact injured workers living in the path of storms or fires to “proactively provide information … on who they can call and where to go,” said Mr. Ives. Often prescriptions are filled early or the company will accept out-of-network providers, he said.

“We try to make the process as convenient as possible by taking the proactive approach,” he said, adding that injured workers have access to an online portal where they can update their temporary address or inform the insurer that they have what they need.

Chubb Ltd. is also on the forefront of providing early assistance.

“Days ahead of an approaching storm, Chubb staff personally reaches out to each individual injured worker and insured in order to communicate key information in the event they are displaced and need medical attention or prescription medications,” Debra Hochron, Basking Ridge, New Jersey-based senior vice president and claim officer for Chubb North America’s workers compensation unit, said in an email to Business Insurance.

Before Hurricane Florence hit the East Coast, Chubb reached out to 400 claimants who were in the direct path of the storm, she wrote.

In cases where an injured worker is so severely injured that evacuating is complicated, some payers are providing services to relocate, if necessary. Mr. Ives said that if the injured worker under Travelers’ care needs an attendant that the costs are addressed “case by case.”

Per its “catastrophe playbook,” Liberty Mutual classifies the injured workers in its database according to severity of injury and will work with transportation companies to assist with evacuations or after-storm relocations for those are immobile and need assistance, according to Ms. Hyatt.