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In 2018, employers will find a mix of changes and challenges affecting their worker’s compensation (WC) insurance. Not only will these changes affect premiums, but how they do business and remain in compliance. While not an all-inclusive list, the following are key WC trends that employers should be aware of in the coming New Year:

• Rate Reductions: Earlier this year, many states experienced a decrease in WC rates – the first decrease since 2007. According to the Department of Labor, the projected reduction would save businesses nearly $67 million in premiums, or $34 less in WC coverage per employee, annually. For employers in the state of California, a recent approval by the state’s Insurance Commissioner brought rates down to an average of $1.94 per $100 of payroll. This trend comes as a welcome relief as WC rates in California have remained historically, the highest in the country. Employers who haven’t shopped their WC insurance recently, now’s the time.

• Opioid Use. Opioids are real cost driver for workers receiving worker’s compensation benefits. Long-term use can lead to addiction and extended periods of disability. Today, there is a severe overuse of opioids in the medical management of injured workers. In fact, over 70 percent of severely injured workers are being prescribed opioids for pain, according to the Workers Compensation Research Institute. Unfortunately, the misuse of prescription pain killers has created new challenges for employers as they grapple with keeping workers safe and to help minimize risks. For this reason, partnering with a worker’s comp carrier with industry-specific claim experience is a must. Those with industry expertise know when to ask the right questions, such as why a prescription isn’t adhering to CDC guidelines and if there are any alternative treatment options available. The ability to identify and flag these types of high-risk claims early in the claim process can help control claim costs in the coming year.

• Medical Marijuana (MMJ). Currently, there are no state or national medical guidelines for worker’s compensation that guide or advise treatment with MMJ. Moreover, laws surrounding MMJ use differ from state to state and will continue to evolve. This will make it difficult for employers who must comply with the Drug-Free Workplace Act to remain in compliance, and may impact employees who test positive for MMJ. Moving forward, employers must decide the right course of action to address MMJ in workplace testing programs. This includes pre-employment, random, and for-cause testing.

• Early-Return-to-Work Programs (ERTW). The benefits of implementing a ERTW program aimed at getting employees back to work as soon as possible (and within their medical restrictions) are well established. They have been shown to result in a quicker recovery, a reduction in lost productivity, lower compensation costs, and less dependency on other types of assistance. In 2018, more employers will be ramping up their ERTW efforts that include developing programs that provide reasonable accommodations for employees receiving worker’s comp, disability, and any other leave of absence. Programs can include job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, or adjustments in how and when a job is performed. An experienced workers comp carrier with the right tools and resources can help employers develop an effective strategy that’s good for business and their employees.

For questions about how you can better address these and other changes in WC insurance, or if you would like a review of your current coverage, contact the experts at Golden Benchmark Insurance Services by visiting us at www.goldenbenchmark.com. Email: admin@goldenbenchmark.com. Phone: 800-786-6273.

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