Over the past year, the healthcare industry has undergone several drastic changes aimed at improving coverage and offering affordable solutions to more Americans. However, these shifts haven't spurred on any change in a closely related sector - workers compensation insurance.
At least, this isn't the case yet, although one economist believes that both segments must align themselves toward the same goal, according to Insurance Journal. Doing so could result in better cost savings, fewer claims and improved coverage for employees. That person is Jonathan Gruber, who recently spoke at the annual conference of the Workers Compensation Research Institute in Boston. Gruber is a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and worked closely to help develop both Massachusetts' health care reform and the Affordable Care Act.
Workers comp may need to change
The main point Gruber stressed at the WCRI conference was the idea that the workers comp insurance industry isn't moving along at the same rate as health care as a whole. This means that there could be lost opportunities for cost savings and other improvements, and that might have a widespread ripple effect throughout both sectors.
Gruber told the audience of professionals that an increase in Americans with health care insurance should reduce the need for them to have injuries covered by workers comp, Insurance Journal reported. With that being said, though, he further explained that high-deductible plans and limited provider networks could offset any effects felt by these changes.
"Other payers are going to get tougher at a quicker rate than workers' compensation is and that is a challenge for this group and the workers' compensation community," Gruber said at the conference, according to the news source. "Is workers' compensation going to keep up with the pace at which the rest of the system is changing?"
Overall, Gruber feels that the goal for the workers comp insurance industry should be to get closer to the current design of health care, Insurance Journal noted. However, it is important to remember that the relatively new Affordable Care Act is still in its infancy, so any additional effects related to the number of claims and workers comp insurance may not be obvious yet. He stated that it would be wise to reserve judgment for several years, not while change is in progress.
Other steps can reduce insurance costs
For employers across the country, changes in health care aren't the only possible driving force behind lower workers comp insurance costs. There are a number of other possible steps one could take, and these should be considered as a means to reduce claims, protect workers and save money.
According to Massachusetts' Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, education is the first step toward a quality workers comp insurance program at a company. Essentially, this means teaching all staff members about proper safety procedures and healthy behavior. Preventative programs are often the most effective, because most incidents in the workplace can be stopped before they ever escalate into something more serious.
In addition, a company may also want to create joint labor-management safety committees, the EOLWD noted. This group will oversee all operations on site, and make sure that everything is moving forward safely and smoothly. This committee can also be responsible for the development of a risk management plan, in order to identify and assess hazards that could directly or indirectly impact employees. As an added bonus, this level of commitment from a company will tend to inspire action out of its staff. Other people may take safety more seriously, and consider taking steps to improve the culture outside of what is recommended by management.