WCRI Conference Roundup
Mar 19, 2020

Two weeks ago - when we were still traveling, albeit bumping elbows instead of handshakes - the Workers' Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) held its annual conference in Boston. The WCRI is one of the premier research organizations addressing comp (NCCI is the other one, if you're curious) and this year's agenda was crammed with important sessions. For those who couldn't be there, and for all of us who may never set foot on an airplane again, here is our summary of the highpoints.





The first two sessions focused on employee age and how that factor conditions/determines what happens in the workplace. The opening session, Generational Differences and Stereotypes in the Workplace, provided an in-depth look at what the different generations - Boomers, Xers, Millennials, and the new Alphas (and, yes, our valiant little band of War Babies who just won't quit) - want in their work experience. The latest research strongly suggests - and I find this reassuring - that all the generations really want about the same satisfactions from work, however differently these preferences may be expressed. A perhaps bittersweet summary of how the generations actually come together can be seen in this survey result: 84% of millennials are concerned about retirement, as are 91% of Xers, and 88% of Boomers. One difference, however - Millennials would really like Boomers to figure out how to use Track Changes in Word. Seems to be a big point of divergence.


The companion session, How Do Claim Costs And Worker Outcomes Differ By Age?, focused on how injuries, claims, and outcomes change with employee age. The fact that us older workers refuse to retire makes this topic especially important. While Dr. Savych's look into the best current statistics was quite detailed, the most startling conclusion is quite simple - yes, injuries do change with age. Slip/trip/fall injuries become much more common with age and often include fractures, while soft tissue lower back claims actually become fewer. What caught my attention was the fact that claims costs do go up with age, BUT -


The biggest bump in claim costs actually occurs around age 45 to 50 and then levels off through age 65.


Claims costs for employees over 65 actually go down.

a bar chart showing that the cost of indemnity payments peaks at the age brackets between 40 and 64, beefore decreasing back to the same cost as 30-somethings.

The age cost curve is not what you might expect.


A panel discussion of alternatives to opioids, Opioid Dispensing Trends and Alternatives for Pain Management, became very lively and included a goodly number of questions from the audience. The bottom line take-away is that we have much better control of the opioid monster now than just a few years ago as physicians continue to shift to non-opioid pain treatments in the world of workers' comp. On the other hand, we shouldn't forget that opioid dependency remains a major cause of death and disability outside our little clinical space.


Two sessions after lunch looked at how the macro-economics of the business cycle impact claim frequency in comp and the curious lag factors involved. Macro events tend to show up in comp about six months after the actual events. Dr. Len Herk , chief economist of NCCI, had some fascinating charts showing how business cycles and claim cycles follow each other, but at a fairly consistent delay.


Two Friday sessions call for special attention as well. NIOSH is now looking at total worker health and how these factors intersect the comp world. This has been a major area of focus for some time on the group health/HR side, but it is now gaining traction in terms of the interplay between population health and comp events and durations. The following panel focused on the role of mental health in comp claims and how it impacts RTW and durations overall. I found this an especially welcome discussion (vigorous audience interactions) since this aspect of comp has been neglected far too long.

From the Generational Differences presentation:


How many Baby Boomers does it take to change a light bulb?
Not really sure, but they're going to have a day-long retreat to brainstorm on the issue and will report back their recommendations.

How many Gen Xers does it take to change a light bulb?
Just one - the slacker who blew off the brainstorming session.

How many Millennials does it take to change a light bulb?
All of them! And they worked as a team! And it was the best light bulb changing any generation ever did – so they want a trophy!



Quick Take 1:
Why Hackers Love COVID-19

p class="body">In our last issue we looked at how the growing trend of employees to resist relocation for employment means that companies have to become more adept at managing all the various forms of telework. Well, intervening events have put this warning up in red neon. An essay on the ITL blog, Coronavirus Boosts Cyber Risk , explores some of the ways in which the sudden need to accommodate employees working remotely may open up system risks for penetration by hackers, ransomware slimeballs, and related denizens of the Dark Web netherworld.

As the article notes, "Malicious actors will leverage the intense focus placed on the virus and the fear and panic it creates. Security researchers have already observed phishing emails posing as alerts regarding COVID-19." And, of course, hastily arranged telework set ups may well have security gaps due to the relative panic mode we see around us - don't just stand there, do something!

Every crisis creates opportunities. Don't let COVID-19 create the opening a hacker's been waiting for.


Quick Take 2:
Darwin Rules... Still

Alas, we missed Darwin's birthday (February 12), but a recent essay from carriermangement.com by Mark Hollmer reminds us that evolution is very much alive and well in the raucous world of insurtech innovations: "For every Lemonade and Root that launches with great fanfare, attracts hundreds of millions of dollars in venture funding and publicizes every facet of its growth, there are many InsurTechs [sic] that disappear and die without any announcement at all."

Darwinian reality is readily apparent, and this is as it should be. Not every new idea can pan out in an already crowded marketplace for financial services. In risk management we see the traffic up close. Perhaps you have been intrigued by some of the new models for such ideas as parametric insurance or cat bonds. Some are working out, but the rate of mortality can be hair-raising. Andrew Johnston, global head of InsurTech at Willis Re, says that roughly 20 to 25% of the insurtechs which were able to raise any significant capital in recent years have ceased trading and shut down.

By all means, keep your eye on the new ideas bubbling up. Some of them will be how business is done a decade from now, but others will be nothing but dinosaur bones. In this instance you, the risk manager, become the agent of evolution. You will determine what works, meets your needs and survives as the most fit beast in the risk jungle - and what does not. Decide carefully.

a drawing of a human evolution as depiected by Dawin, but with a twist. the standard chimp to missing link to caveman to homo sapien with no tool to homo sapien with tools is there, but now there is one more human sitting at a computer at the end of the evolution

Darwin meets financial services.


Say It Isn't So...

Has it come to this?

image of a woman wearing a fask mask holding a dog wearing a fask mask



Words to Remember

"If you can keep your wits about you when persons all around you are losing theirs, you may be tragically misinformed."
- Anonymous (seen a couple generations ago on a men's room wall at Stanford University)


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