Motivation For Advocacy Based Claims Handling: A New Idea

Pictures of injured workers.

That’s it.

I recently finished reading Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini. He relates the story of a group of management consultants who were working at their client’s site in a glass-enclosed conference room. They were tasked with designing incentive programs to reward employees for reaching goals. Rather than being distracted by the activity they could see around them, the ability of the consultants to see the people they were designing for led to a more successful result. They felt a unity with those people. Once this was realized, they placed pictures of workforce members around later on-site workspaces with the same result.

What if claims offices were decorated with pictures of people representing injured workers? This could be pictures of people with disabilities, such as people in wheelchairs, people getting into a medical transportation vehicle, people as patients. Mix in headshots of a diverse group of people.

Cialdini’s research tells us that claims professionals are more likely to feel unity with people they can see. By the way, he also says that those sentimental motivation posters actually succeed. Who would have guessed?

Perhaps no one is marketing images just this way, but it seems like it would be pretty easy to create an appropriate collection. This seems like an inexpensive way to determine if viewing images of injured workers can produce more effective advocacy based claim handling.

What do you think? Would management give it a try?

Don’t Miss the Crossover Issues

Crossover issues are not strictly workers compensation issues– which is why they are sometimes overlooked. That omission can cost a party money or even lead to a professional malpractice suit. Third Party Claims
Product liability, medical malpractice, and negligent roadway design are examples of third party claims usually unaffected by the exclusive remedy rule. Collisions may give rise to the most common third party claim.

SSDI
Whether and when to apply for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) are not simple decisions. Federal law is written to make sure a disabled person does not earn more when not working than the person did on the job. The “80% rule” limits the combined total of SSDI and indemnity payments to an injured worker. This rule principally affects lower wage earners.

Medicare/Medi-Cal
Virtually all workers compensation professionals recognize the need for a Medicare Set-Aside in appropriate cases. Correct self-administration remains a challenge. Additionally, practitioners should be aware that two forms of Medi-Cal currently exist: traditional and expanded. Savvy negotiators can often use these programs to create a safety net to cover the injured worker’s medical expenses as part of a Compromise & Release completely closing the claim. C&Rs drafted without considering Medi-Cal issues could imperil medical care for the injured worker and the injured worker’s entire family.

Immigration
Undocumented injured workers are eligible for workers compensation benefits in California. Some undocumented workers have been in their jobs for decades. They remain under the legal radar until a workplace injury occurs. At that point, a false or stolen identity may come to light, creating issues for the injured worker and the employer. The Patriot Act’s provisions about identification required to open a bank account or to send money out of the country can also interfere with an injured worker’s decision to choose a Compromise & Release.

Tax
The tax code provides that money received on account of a physical injury is not taxable. Usually all payments made on a workers compensation claim arise from a physical injury. However, a number of circumstances could trigger taxation. Also, once an injured worker receives a buy-out, earnings on invested or banked sums are taxable.

Get Help
Workers compensation professionals should recognize crossover issues, and counsel should alert clients when these issues appear. The next step could be to bring in an expert in that area, provide one or more referrals, or advise clients to seek professional advice on their own.

You Have To Play To Win

–How Mediation Is (Not) Like the Lottery–

No, I’m not advocating you play the lottery, but the slogan does apply: you have to play to win. The odds of winning the California Super Lotto Jackpot are 18 million to 1 against you. The likelihood you will be able to resolve your workers compensation issue in mediation is more like 80-90% in your favor providing you participate.

Take a Calculated Risk
The only settlement offer without a chance of acceptance is the one you never make. Some parties complain that they can’t settle the case. Yet, those same parties refuse mediation or come to mediation unwilling to negotiate. You cannot expect resolution in mediation if your position is to never move off the number that was refused pre-mediation. You have to play to win.

Playing the lottery is the classic example of a blind risk. A blind risk embodies an irrational hope, an action based on nothing more than emotion, expecting something for nothing. A person who takes a calculated risk, on the other hand, has objectively assessed the situation and examined the upside and downside potential. This is true for investors, explorers, world leaders, and negotiators.

First evaluate, then negotiate
Before you can effectively negotiate, you have to do your homework, i.e., run the numbers to evaluate the claim. Once you have considered the best and worst alternatives to a negotiated agreement, you are ready to proffer your demand or offer. You have to play to win.

Mediation allows the people with the most knowledge about the claim to take control of resolving it. During mediation, the mediator can help you calculate your risks and negotiate resolution.

Bulk Settlement Days

The Workers Compensation community is small. We see the same folks again and again. Applicant’s counsel commonly have an inventory of cases with one carrier or TPA, perhaps involving a single employer. Claims professionals and defense counsel often have multiple claims with one applicant’s attorney. These scenarios beg for an efficient resolution.

A litigation management technique called a Bulk Settlement Day involves scheduling multiple cases for mediation with the same players on the same day, same place, one after the other. Some people use the term Block Settlement Day for the same idea, referring to a block of cases.

Scheduling a Settlement Day is not as daunting as you may think. Start with a letter suggesting several cases you know are good settlement candidates. Invite the addressee to suggest others. If you need help composing your letter, please contact me for a form. 

Heartsink Patients

Heartsink” is the term for how the treater feels when it is difficult if not impossible to help patients with chronic pain and disability. A 1989 Toronto Star editorial placed these patients into four categories: dependent clingers, entitled demanders, manipulative help-rejecters, and self-destructive deniers.
You know these injured workers. They are the ones whose life is wrapped up in their claim. The only way they will give up that obsession is to replace it with a plan for life after claim closure.Injured workers need to feel that a settlement is the just result. They need adequate compensation to create a safety net for future medical care. A WCAB hearing is often just a prelude to more conflict.

Mediation can provide the forum to help the injured worker create a plan for life without an ongoing claim.

 

How Minimum Wage Laws Affect Indemnity Payments

SAWW is going up. The California State Average Weekly Wage determines the annual adjustment of the minimum and maximum payments to persons receiving temporary disability benefits per Labor Code 4453(a)(10). The State Average Weekly Wage also determines the adjustment to payments to persons receiving a life pension or total permanent disability indemnity per Labor Code 4659(c).

In June, the Department of Industrial Relations Division of Workers Compensation announced an increase for payments starting January 1, 2017. The minimum TTD rate will increase from $169.26 to $175.88 and the maximum TTD rate will increase from $1,128.43 to $1,172.57 per week.

In a separate development, a new rule gradually raising the minimum hourly wage to $15 by January 1, 2023 was signed into law in April. A rising minimum hourly rate will increase the State Average Weekly Wage over the next seven years and in consequence some workers compensation indemnity benefits.But there’s a safety valve. After January 1, 2017, the governor can delay any scheduled increase for one year if certain economic or budget conditions exist. The economy has been expanding. Some experts predict a collapse.

Effect on Settlements
When evaluating claims for settlement, parties may have to consider how the expected SAWW increases will affect the value of future indemnity benefits. The minimum hourly wage increases are small, 50 cents the first two years and a dollar a year thereafter. Is this enough to affect the historic rate of increase we have seen for life pensions? Claims subject to minimum and maximum TD increases are most likely to be affected. An across-the-board increase in claim value will also increase attorney compensation.

Predicting is hard.  Settling sooner rather than later avoids uncertainty.

THE ONE THING TO DO TO MAXIMIZE WORKERS COMP MEDIATION SUCCESS

Preparing a mediation brief is the one thing you can do to maximize the likelihood of a successful mediation. The goal in mediation is to define issues and resolve them. You can get a head start by alerting your mediator to the issues and suggesting why those issues tilt in your favor.

Lack of a brief unnecessarily lengthens the mediation. Your mediator is probably being paid according to how much time is spent in mediation. Effective resource management dictates you don’t want the mediator to have to spend the first hour—or two or three—digging out the issues.

Mediation can be an exhausting process. People get cantankerous which makes negotiation more difficult. Short-cutting the mediation by defining issues in advance can keep participants at their best.

The brief need not be formal. A letter may be adequate. If you are in doubt about how formal your brief must be, contact the mediator and ask.

A party who does not brief the issues may be allowing the other side to define the discourse. Send your brief to the mediator far enough ahead of the mediation so the mediator has adequate time to review it.

The mediation brief you send the mediator is confidential. You decide whether to share it with the opposing party. Information disclosed to the mediator during mediation is not discoverable. The mediator cannot be subpoenaed. This allows you to control when to disclose your “smoking gun”—maybe not until trial.

Some parties prepare two briefs: one for the opposing party and one for the mediator. More commonly, a party prepares just one, but may decide to waive confidentiality of the brief during mediation.

The Regulation (Almost) Nobody Follows

“If a party requests that a defendant provide a computer printout of benefits paid, within twenty (20) days the defendant shall provide the requesting party with a current computer printout of benefits paid. The printout shall include the date and amount of each payment of temporary disability indemnity, permanent disability indemnity, and vocational rehabilitation maintenance allowance, and the period covered by each payment, and the date, payee, and amount of each payment for medical treatment. This request may not be made more frequently than once in a one-hundred-twenty (120) day period unless there is a change in indemnity payments.

A defendant that has paid benefits shall have a current computer printout of benefits paid available for inspection at every mandatory settlement conference.
California Code of Regulations Title 8 §10607.

The benefits printout is the foundation of every workers compensation claim evaluation. Yet, workers compensation professionals often ignore the basic exercise of examining claim expenditures. Attorneys sometimes come to mediation with a rolling cart holding boxes of documents. Yet, when asked for the printout, they have to contact their office or the adjuster. Stranger still are the answers I sometimes get to the question, “How did you get to that number?” When I ask participants how they formulated their demand or offer, their answers may have no relation to actual claim exposure.

Showing up at a mediation or mandatory settlement conference without having scrutinized the printout numbers is inefficient, maybe even sloppy. Better practice is to obtain the printout in advance and create projections to support your claim evaluation.

Workers compensation professionals should review past medical expenses to project future expenses. Of course, parties may disagree about what expenses are reasonable and the likelihood and duration of future care. A medical recommendation for a new treatment (which may be disputed) can skew the numbers. For example, resolution of one mediated case hinged on a medical recommendation for a newly available prosthetic device.

The printout is also critical to resolving retro and overpayment disputes. When parties disagree about whether payments in a given time period should have been paid at the PD or TD rate, the printout is the best evidence of what was actually paid.

When both sides look at the printout together, they can often resolve their disagreements with a little help from the mediator.

Settlement Season

settlement-seasonHere we are in the fourth quarter of the year or as some call it, settlement season. Workers Compensation cases seem to drag on, but as year-end approaches, everyone in the system suddenly wants to get claims off the books. There is good reason.

Claimants on the road to settlement often want to complete a buy-out in time to get cash for the holiday season. Carriers have to report to state insurance departments how many claims are open at year-end. Self-insureds want to avoid funding a bond for another year.

If you haven’t previously mediated a Workers Compensation claim, you might feel a bit intimidated. You don’t have to commit to a settlement in advance of mediation. In fact, many mediations start with parties insisting the claim will not settle.  Yet, the majority of those mediated claims do result in settlement.

Parties just need to agree to sit together with the mediator to discuss the issues. Once everyone is on board, a mediation can be scheduled quickly. Unlike a WCAB hearing, participants can take all the time they need.

When parties collaborate in mediation to define issues, they often find themselves resolving those issues. Minimally, everyone will be on a firmer basis to move forward.

What You Forgot To Tell Your TPA

Many self-insureds and carriers use Third Party Administrators as their front-line adjusters. A set of instructions or guidelines from the actual check-writer is supposed to regulate the TPA’s procedures. Anticipating every permutation of every possible situation is impossible, but every set of instructions should include guidance on when and how to use mediation.

Recently I had the opportunity to review a set of TPA instructions. The TPA was directed to “negotiate settlements of covered claims pursuant to the authority granted by” the contracting party. No further details were provided.  However, another section of the agreement spelled out in minute detail a procedure for mediation should a dispute arise between the TPA and its client. The client knew mediation was an important tool for resolving its own disputes, but provided no direction about how to use it to resolve covered claims.

The regional risk manager of one national account tried to get their local team of TPA workers compensation adjusters to try new dispute resolution techniques, but the adjusters refused. “If they want us to do that, they need to include it in their instructions.”

What Should TPA Instructions Say About Mediation?
“At appropriate milestones in the life of a claim, adjusters and attorneys should take active steps to initiate mediation and report on the results.

“These milestones include:

-Upcoming trial date
-IW has reached permanent & stationery status
-IW has reached age 61
-70% of indemnity reserve has been paid
-4 reserve changes within 2 years
-Case is more than 4 years old

“Additionally, claims handlers should attempt to close claims with mediation in:

-Death cases
-when the IW is acting in pro per

“Adjusters and attorneys are expected to participate in mediations with a good faith intention to negotiate and resolve pivotal issues.”