When Colorado State University issued its first forecast for the 2017 hurricane season, it predicted a modest series of storms little different from the long term average. We got something much more memorable than a merely average season. In all fairness, any form of weather forecasting beyond this evening exists right at the edge of current technology and our understanding of how weather works. Nonetheless, we already have the first forecast for this year in hand.
Storm prediction company, Global Weather Oscillations (GWO), has just released their forecast for what amounts to a repeat of last year, with "16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes." The term "major hurricanes" should get your attention; these are the brothers and sisters of Katrina. According to GWO's chief prediction scientist, David Dilley, "Some United States zones and the Caribbean Islands are currently in their strongest hurricane landfall cycle in 40 to 70-years."
The waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean are staying warmer than normal. Warm ocean water is high-test gasoline for hurricanes, so at least one precursor for storm severity is firmly in place. GWO notes that this coming year's major hurricane landfall locations will probably be different but two of the predicted hurricanes will be "major impact storms." That doesn't sound good.
As with every year, this is the time to review your exposures and coverages in hurricane prone areas. As Superstorm Sandy taught us a few years ago, not all hurricane prone areas feature palm trees and funny colored drinks with miniature umbrellas in them. Get prepared. Be prepared.
The Opioid Wars - What's New?
The Opium Wars of the 19th Century started in 1839 and continued, on and off, through 1860. A recent report from our friends at California Workers' Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) offers some hope that the current Opioid Wars will not take the same 21 years to resolve. We are beginning to see significant progress on several fronts.
The CWIRB findings, which are unique to California, show that 47% of injured workers who were apparently addicted to opioids could be weaned off further opioid medications within the 24 month period studied by CWIRB. Even those injured workers who did not get off opioids completely, reduced their dosage by over 50%. A 50% reduction in daily morphine equivalents can be, depending on the base intake rate, the difference between total disability and something like normal functioning.
The Journal has reported recently on other signs of progress in combatting opioids in other states like Ohio and Washington. The war is certainly not won, but results like those reported by CWIRB show that it can be won with continued thought and effort. The drug pushers don't have to win. What are you and your claims partner doing to keep the pressure on the drug slingers who prescribe opioids casually and carelessly?
So What's Up/Down with Workers' Comp Medical Costs?
Not too many years ago, all medical costs across the US observed the same tired cliché; they went up like skyrockets. And comp medical costs had a trajectory all their own - up, up and away. Recently, health care providers seem to have put their fireworks away and the cost of medical care has bumped along like most cost of living components. A new report from USI (2018 Insurance Market Outlook) indicates that this blessed state of events may be changing.
The report suggests that one key driver of possible cost increases is "a continued increase in cost shifting from healthcare plans to workers' compensation due to the profitability challenges faced by the Affordable Care Act as well as other challenges". What's really going on here and what you should expect to see in your comp medical costs going forward?
The redoubtable Joe Paduda in his blog, Managed Care Matters (a must read for anyone seriously interested in the costs of medical care), expressed a number of reservations about USI's prediction (quoted in WorkersCompensation.com). New work by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) sees a continuation of the recent trend to moderation. While the discussion can get complicated, the basic point is that the specialized Personal Healthcare Deflator (PHC) tracks actual workers' comp medical trends much more closely than the more widely quoted Medical CPI.
Joe explains that "the PHC Deflator predicts a much lower rate of price inflation than the other more commonly used metrics; PHC does factor in a change in the mix of services, which I'm guessing is a key reason [for the lower cost projections]." Joe adds "there's been a significant shift in the location of services from hospital to non-hospital providers which has reduced overall costs." The PHC numbers reflect these changes. Bottom line - keep watching the numbers, but for right now comp medical costs are behaving themselves. We have to wait for the Fourth of July to get skyrockets this year.
What's Happening to the Dentists?
This year the canary in the coal mine may be a dentist. According to the Centers for Disease Control's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (a must read for shut-ins) dentists and dental technicians are 23 times more likely than the rest of us to die of IPF (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis). A report in a recent issue of The Washington Post suggests that dentists and IPF may be a warning about the dangers of inhaling small amounts of mildly toxic materials over time in settings other than dental offices.
The Post report points out that: "Dentists and people who work in their offices are exposed to a specific set of hazards, particularly silica, polyvinyl siloxane, alginate, and other toxic substances that can be inhaled when they're polishing dental appliances or preparing amalgams." We are not talking about big, industrial applications involving large amounts of known toxins. That's what makes this item so compelling. Older dentists, who began work before many modern safety practices were in place, seem to be especially prone to IPF.
Do you have any employees who work with small amounts of abrasives, polishing agents, nano particles and the like regularly? Do you have positive ventilations systems in place, respirators? Do your safety professionals take these materials seriously when they come in ten once bottles as well as fifty-five gallon drums? IPF starts with a persistent cough and a sore throat. It ends with death in about five years. Just five years.