Workers’ comp — no bad news

The New Mexico workers’ compensation system is in moderately good shape this year, say the people who are supposed to know.

NCCI, the National Council on Compensation Insurance, presented its annual New Mexico forum recently. Most important: employers can expect a modest reduction in the cost of their insurance premiums in 2019. The amount will vary depending upon industry and other factors.

NCCI serves the workers’ compensation insurance industry, in part by tracking and analyzing data so insurers will have accurate information as the basis for setting rates.

Workers’ comp is a factor in the competition among states for attracting industry and economic development.  The current numbers show workers’ comp is not hurting New Mexico.

Most states in our region are also showing cost reductions. New Mexico is not the best by this measure, but it’s doing okay. The outlier is Hawaii, the only state in the region showing an actual cost increase.

The assigned risk pool, also called the residual market, is doing very well. The pool is where the highest risk businesses can get coverage if no insurance company wants to cover them voluntarily. The pool has been reduced to 4 percent of all businesses — another positive sign for the state’s economy.

The number of indemnity claims filed by New Mexico workers has been going down year after year. Ideally this means workplaces are safer and fewer workers are getting injured. The cost per claim– benefits paid to injured workers — is going up, but not by much. The average payment to the worker is a little more than $24,000 over time, primarily to replace lost wages.

However, the cost of medical care for those injuries is going up and the latest estimate is around $42,000.  Again, this is over the life of the whole claim, possibly several years.  This is consistent with trends in other states.

The report noted that the top issue for legislation nationwide is special consideration for first responders, such as police officers and firefighters.  Traumatic incidents, such as mass shootings, call call attention to the effects on workers from police officers to 911 operators. The trend is to improve coverage for their post-traumatic stress.

A few years ago New Mexico passed legislation to give retired professional firefighters special consideration if they develop certain cancers. Firefighters may be exposed to many kinds of toxicity, with effects that may occur years later.

New Mexico also gives special consideration to police officers through a court decision that an off-duty police officer who was killed while trying to save a life was covered.  Normally, people not at work are not covered by workers’ comp.

The opioid issue continues to be an extremely serious concern. NCCI data shows injured workers  prescribed opioids received three times as many prescriptions as the overall population. In 2018 a large majority of states considered prescription drug legislation or regulatory changes to reduce those numbers.

The sleeper issue this year is the cost of air ambulance service, which has become a national outrage.

Regulation of air ambulances falls between the cracks of federal and state legislation, so those companies can charge whatever they like.   According to reports, they do.  The figures most often quoted are $50,000 to $70,000 for a short trip in an air ambulance — several times what those services are likely to cost the providers.

New Mexico Insurance Superintendent John Franchini said there is an ongoing dispute at the national level about whether states have the power to regulate rates and that Congress, which should enact legislation to clarify the issue, has not acted.

Meanwhile, Franchini said, New Mexico has a law protecting patients from balance billing.  If you receive a bill from an air ambulance company, you can call OSI and the staff may be able to help.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2018

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