2011 Governor's Conference on Worker's Compensation

The 2011 Governor’s Conference on Workers’ Compensation, held this year in Helena, was excellent. A slate of informative and inspirational speakers across the full 3 days of the conference were heard by the more than 350 attendees. The annual meeting of the Montana Self-Insurers Association was held before the start of the conference, and was standing room only. Mike Marsh of MCSi was a guest panelist along with Dianna Ferriter of the MT DOL&I, Brad Lucke of the Garlington law firm (Missoula) and Gary Lusin (Physical and Sports Therapist – Bozeman) discussing the impact of the recently passed and implemented HB334. The panel led a spirited discussion, with the concensus being that rather than a 20%+ savings (as had been predicted by various industry commentators and rating organizations, the revisions in the law were actually likely to cause a 4 – 6 % INCREASE in costs for Plan 1 Self-Insured organizations in MT. Mr. Marsh, similar to 2008, introduced ideas for the next legislative session. Previously, WC Adjusters/Examiners were not required to attend or record Continuing Education (CE). Following his suggestions at the 2008 conference, legislation was introduced, passed and implemented allowing for a voluntary “opt in” type CE system for WC Examiners. Mike’s primary suggestions this conference: 1) Revision of the U&T Guidelines to address the definition of chronic pain and dispensing of opioids, and 2) Leveling the playing field in the area of claims handling by revising the laws to make all claims facilities handling claims for self-insureds and voluntary (all insurance written that is not “last resort” or “assigned risk” type business) equally potentially liable for punitive damages in the event of a bad faith judgement. There is one entity writing insurance in MT for WC that actively competes for voluntary business in the marketplace, much written by active independent agents in the state, but that entity through a quirk in the law cannot be held liable for punitive damages. This change would allow for a more level playing field and encourage additional insurance competition in the workers’ compensation area. In a state that has the HIGHEST workers’ compensation premium rates in the US, additional competition will no doubt create new efficiencies and price stabilization. A highlight for our organization was the combined hospitality event sponsored by Midland Claims, iMed (Bill Review company based in Colorado) and Vocational Management Services (vocational rehabilitation and nurse case management company – Billings). The event was attended by nearly half of the conference attendees, with food, drinks and live music. Thanks to Sherry Timmons of iMed and Travis Stortz of VMS for working with us on this first of its type event.