Tracking the post-pandemic workers' compensation market | Insurance Business America
While many people would say that the world is currently in a post-pandemic phase, the sad truth is that the effects of COVID-19 have not actually gone away. While the coronavirus’ impact appears to be reduced, it continues to affect the world’s businesses by influencing government restrictions and inducing staffing shortages.
How is the workers’ compensation industry in this so-called “post-pandemic” phase? Insurance Business America spoke with John Wildfire (pictured above) and David Brewer (pictured below) – healthcare practice leader and senior claims and risk manager, respectively, at PMC Insurance – for their insights into the current market.
Can you tell me about PMC Insurance and your respective roles with the company?
Both: PMC is a national workers’ compensation specialist. Working through the insurance agent community for the last 25 years, PMC has the workers’ compensation expertise and carrier relationships to offer guidance and place coverage for most insureds across the country - whether the insured is in their first year of operation or has grown to a multi-million-dollar business. We have industry-specific expertise in healthcare, transportation, staffing and construction with teams of experts servicing those areas.
John: I am responsible for PMC’s healthcare practice. Our team places workers’ compensation coverage and helps reduce workplace risk for businesses across the full spectrum of healthcare from in-home companion care and skilled care for senior living facilities to hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Our team is made up of industry specialists who are uniquely qualified to service the particular needs of the healthcare field.
David: I’m the senior claims and risk manager at PMC Insurance Group. I help our retail agent partners manage the complexities of their clients’ losses and inherent risks via trend identification, analysis, strategic problem solving, and general oversight. Digging deep into historical loss data, I work with agents to help their clients identify problem areas, and subsequently create and help implement risk management and safety programs, procedures, and best practices with the goal of reducing injury risks in the workplace and minimizing the impact of current and future losses on the client’s bottom line.
How has the workers' compensation market handled the return of US workers to their offices?
John: What is unique to healthcare is that our caregivers and practitioners have never left! As a community and as complimentary businesses alike, the key for us today is how do we support our caregivers after they have remained tirelessly present to care for our seniors and recovering patients over the last two and a half years? Acknowledging their dedication, offering support platforms, developing advanced career pathing programs and continuing to provide a safe place to work are examples of what they are looking for and many of these can be relatively inexpensive to implement.
David: Historically speaking, mental health issues are a fairly recent phenomenon in terms of being part of mainstream conversations about overall health. The pandemic served to heighten employer awareness of employee mental health and what businesses can do to help their staff with issues pertaining to anxiety, stress, depression, and so on. As we collectively continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic and employees’ mental health, there are several ways that Workers’ Compensation and employers themselves, as an extension, can help employees monitor and maintain their mental health to maximize their ability to do their jobs effectively.
As businesses continue to reopen and invite their employees back to the workplace, employers could: train their supervisors to recognize at-risk employees, consider hybrid work (a mix of remote work and in-office work for employees to ensure a proper work/life balance), provide access to mental health resources, and ensure that their human resources department and employee handbooks are fully staffed and up to date with modern considerations for employee mental health.
Additionally, and specific to the pandemic, employers would do well to maintain a clean and sanitized workplace. The fact is that many employees’ apprehensions about returning to an office environment revolve around the increased exposure to others and germs outside of the home. Providing your staff with hand sanitizer throughout the office, as well as cleaning products at each workstation, can go a long way toward making your employees feel more comfortable returning to the office.
The pandemic took its mental toll on many people. How have US employers handled this toll and how can workers’ compensation insurers help mitigate this impact?
John: Employers within the healthcare industry have really stepped up to offer amazing support for their frontline staff. With a resurgence of focus on and an important commitment to mental health (which extends well beyond employees but also to all members of our community), examples of how some insurers can and have participated include:
- A continued safe environment within which to work. Proper patient assessment protocols, providing adequate PPE, paying for additional equipment (such as Hoyer lifts) and maintaining contingency plans as employees need/require time away from work are examples.
- Looking beyond loss control and formulate back-to-work support programs so there is a well-documented, step-by-step guide for employees to return to their patients, as appropriate. Many caregivers truly want to be with their clients and getting them there as quickly as possible (with the consent of their physician) provides a breath of relief for them.
- Training to offer advanced skill sets for those looking to further their career paths and obtain additional certifications. Caregivers are asking for advanced knowledge in areas such as dementia, diabetes, heart disease, behavioral health and even sleep support. Providing these trainings through online tools allows employees to go at their own pace and complete these courses as time allows within their already very busy schedules. These programs are invigorating caregivers and adding to their excitement to continue to want to be of service in the field.
David: Workers’ compensation carriers and agents/brokers can assist in these efforts by providing resources to their clients, such as safety and risk management programs designed to assist employers with the implementation of, for example, sensitivity training, home-office ergonomic assistance, general safety program and risk management oversight assistance, and more. The fact is that a lot of the risk management programs and procedures already in practice for other safety needs map neatly onto procedures related to employee mental health, so the transition from one to the other can be smooth and seamless.
From your perspective, what does the future of communicable diseases in workers' compensation look like?
John: Communicable diseases are not compensatory through workers compensation policies in most circumstances. The reason being that it is often difficult to prove that the disease was acquired in the workplace. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many states approved, reviewed or are still litigating legislature that had, have or will have changed the responsibilities of a workers’ compensation carrier to pay for time missed due to the virus, particularly for employees in more susceptible professions such as healthcare and first responders.
Also important to note is that many of the laws passed in 2000 and 2021 have since expired. Therefore, communicable disease may no longer be compensatory to an employee even though it was only a year ago. Today, in only a few states, there is still legislation pending in the statehouse which may extend or renew laws to cover these cases in the future. With all of that said, at one point there were 18 total states which had legislation either approved or being reviewed related to communicable disease.
Today, there are approximately three. Therefore, the trend seems to show that the likelihood of an employee’s claim being paid related to a communicable disease is still very low. Even with the severity of health issues that the COVID-19 pandemic brought about, the pattern seems to show that it is unlikely that much will change in the future as it relates to communicable disease coverage in workers’ compensation.
As each state has its own legislation related to this issue, it is important to understand what those are in the state within which the employee works and what employee’s rights are at any given point within that state.