5 Reasons Why Reserves Need to be Higher than You Think

As a Risk manager, claims coordinator, agent, human resources representative — whatever your title may be, the name of the claims game comes down to reserves. Reserves are the tangible part of what an injury costs you, either directly out of budget, or as potential future increased premium costs. A lot of speculation and estimation goes into reserving a file, but a good percentage of the time when you try and come up with a number for a file you find yourself way too low. Why are the numbers that your adjuster recommends so high? What exactly do we have to cover as future medical cost, even though this claimant may no longer work for you? How do adjusters learn how to reserve?  

1. It is the cost of the claim for “life”
When you think about reserving a file for the long term, you have to think long term. Not long term as in 10 years. Long term as in for the rest of that person’s life. In most states, if an injured worker needs long-term reasonable and necessary medical treatment for their injury, and the doctor relates  treatment specifically back to that injury, then your company is probably responsible. You can get an IME (Independent Medical Review), or record review to fight why the recommended treatment is not related but, typically, the burden of proof is just causal relationship. If the patient can show the need for treatment relates back to the injury of 20 years ago, they have met their burden of proof. This is when these injuries can come back to bite you. Instead of settling 10 years ago because you thought the number was “too high,” now you are going to have to scramble to come up with a defense and, if it is indeed related, not only will you have medical costs but you may have wage-loss costs as well. (WCxKit)

The future is your biggest enemy in surgical claims with long-term exposure. Once surgery is performed, nothing is ever the same. Scarring, nerve issues, accelerated arthritis symptoms, the need for ongoing medication and doctor evaluations, diagnostic testing, etc. These things all lie in wait for the future. Sure, right now in 2011 the claimant’s demand of $100,000 may seem like a lot. But you have to break the file apart, and this is what the adjuster does. If your injured worker is 30 years old, you potentially have  55 years of exposure. If back surgery was  in 2011, and the claimant is  30 years old, you have a ton of problems sitting there waiting for you. The claimant may be fine now and the surgery was a success. But what about 5,10,15 years from now? Will be needed another surgery? Maybe that one will not go as well. So consider the long term: The life of the claim, the life of your claimant, and the need for future medical treatment.
2. The injury requires potential future surgical risk
Surgical cases are major red flags for future problems, especially when some sort of hardware is implanted. Most of the time these people return back to doctors due to pain, usually due to hardware or screws becoming loose. Then this person has to undergo a procedure to have it removed. Then, they have to rehab from that, and then they can return to work. But, again, the issue here is when will the person need that hardware out? Some can live with it forever and never come back. Some come back in a year or two. Some have constant problems with it and it creates problems preventing them from making a full recovery from surgery.
Back surgery is especially risky. In the world of workers comp you do not hear about many success stories with major back surgery. It may lessen the pain, but it can create a ton of future issues. When you evaluate these claims and costs of settling them, be sure to account for future surgical risk. It is very costly, and very risky, and maybe you better get rid of that risk now if you can versus adopting a “wait and see” attitude.
3. The costs ongoing medications
If you pick up any newspaper you will run across a story about the costs of medications and how they are dramatically increasing. Each drug manufacturer has their reasons to increase price but, whatever the reason, the bottom line is prices are always going up. And if you have a claim where a claimant has to take ongoing medication for pain or nerve issues, those meds are typically not the cheapest ones. Sometimes generics are available and worth looking in to, but its still an ongoing monthly cost that can drag on for years. You can find out from your IME doctor if it is necessary for your claimant to continue taking these meds, how often they should be taking them, etc. That way you can properly estimate the future cost. But keep in mind to add in a percentage for inflation over the years, since prices show no indication of decreasing.
4. An MSA may be needed
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to settling a claim is the need for a Medicare Set-Aside (MSA). The MSA breaks down future cost for those who require future treatment while also being on Medicare or of retirement age. If your veteran worker sustains a major shoulder injury a year before retiring that is not good. Not only do you have to cover surgery and rehab on a veteran worker in your shop, but also, the chances for a good recovery are guarded, which means ongoing treatment could last for years. An MSA is needed if you want to move this case to settlement. MSA numbers are not small. There are several vendors who specialize in MSA reports and submissions, and they will tell you they are very costly once approved by CMS (Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services).
MSA’s are costly, speculative treatment estimations. And the key word here is “estimates.” There is no guarantee the claimant will need another surgery. But they may estimate it for you, and make you pay for one just in case. So maybe that is a scenario where you should not settle. It is something to discuss with your adjuster. The point is, be aware if an MSA is needed it is going to financially cost you to settle and resolve your risk involvement in this case.
5. The age/general health of the claimant matters
Obviously if a 22-year-old worker falls and breaks his neck, you have about 63 years of medical exposure. If your 67-year-old, part-time janitor falls and breaks his ankle, you have maybe 16 years of exposure. Age matters. The younger the claimant, the more severe the injury, the more costly it is going to be.  Reviewing employees  personal health histories correlates to cost as well. The healthier the person, the speedier the recovery and the less it may cost to get them  back to full duty work.
It is hard to control genetics. Everyone is different and heals differently, but you can get a good idea about if someone is “healthy” or not. If you have seen your claimant in the past eating fast food and chain smoking during  daily breaks or lunchtime, you know quick healing is probably not in that person's future.
The art of reserving a file for life expectancy is part science, part estimation, and part experience. Adjusters see the same injuries day in and day out. Sometimes they deal with poor healers and sometimes they deal with those who make a speedier recovery than planned for. This is why reserving a file for probable outcome is an art form. All you can do is look at the evidence and what the future may hold. If in doubt, aim for a higher rather than lower reserve figure.(WCxKit)
For your long, large claims, utilize the help of a life care manager or an MSA company. Talk about future medical needs and costs with your adjuster. Roundtable the file with your peers and see if you are missing anything. Ask your adjuster during your weekly roundtable meeting. If you don't have a weekly roundtable, it might be time to ask for one. It is complicated to think about every cost an injured worker may need between now and 40 years from now, but if you use the tools at your disposal you should be able to get an accurate, effective reserve for the life of the file. If you want to outsource this – and many do – to a an expert, consider the Life Care Planner services of your TPA or MSA company. Also, ask your adjuster for the Reserving Worksheet – this can clear up any problems.

Author Rebecca Shafer
, JD, President of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is the author of the #1 selling book on cost containment, Manage Your Workers Compensation: Reduce Costs 20-50% www.WCManual.com. Contact: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.

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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers comp issues.
©2011 Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law. If you would like permission to reprint this material, contact Info@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.

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