I had put my airplane away for the evening after visiting my mom and dad yesterday, and was exiting the secured gate at the airport when a woman had pulled up and frantically waved me down.
Her 88 year old dad was at the airport, his hangar was "right over there" (we could see it from the gate) and his car was parked out front and the door of the hangar was partially open.
She was panicking. Her dad ALWAYS was home by 4 p.m., but her mom said he hadn't returned yet - it was about 5:15 when this encounter occurred.
So I let her through the gate and escorted her to the hangar where the lights were on and her dad was sitting in the back seat of his Navion, looking asleep.
Except he was cold to the touch when I climbed up the ladder to check on him. I called 911, flagged down airport security, and tried as best I could to offer some condolence to Julie (we finally introduced ourselves).
I couldn't help but think of the irony that I had just returned from yet another trip dealing with my dad in the hospital, on the border of life and death with all sorts of tubes and wires in him, making sure my mom was taken care of and dealing with the Business of Dad, and Julie's father seemed to have passed peaceably, quickly it seemed, in his airplane, still holding an approach chart in his hand.
Julie was distraught and sad, of course, at the sudden death of her father. But she told me that he had always said he wanted to die in his airplane.
He got his wish.
And that little tale has absolutely nothing to do with the difference between what private self insured employers are doing compared to the rest of the California workers' compensation community in achieving continuing stability, if not declines, in claims frequency.
While the rest of the market saw an increase of 3.3% in 2012 from the year earlier, according to an analysis of first-report data by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute, private self insureds saw virtually no increase.
Self-insured employers reported a total of 77,557 claims in 2012, just a 0.22% increase from the 77,386 claims recorded in first-report data submitted to the Office of Self-Insurance Plans in 2011.
Medical-only claims reported by self-insured employers increased 2.34% to 49,492 in 2012, up from 48,360 in 2011, OSIP data shows. But the data show a 3.43% drop in indemnity claims. Self-insured employers reported 28,065 indemnity claims in 2012, compared to 29,026 in 2011.
Self insureds have seen a decline in frequency year over year since 2001 except 2008 and 2012. And while 2008 and 2012 don't represent declines (2008 showed a 0.04% increase), the stability in the numbers is contrary to what the insured market is seeing.
The odd year is 2010 when the numbers went conversely wild, when insured employers saw the 6.7% spike in claims, self-insured employers saw frequency fall by 2.94%.
The insured employer market represents about 75% of the total workers' compensation market in California in terms of payroll and losses.
But maybe these numbers aren't so much as an aberration as they reflect what's going on with the economy.
Frank Neuhauser, a researcher with the University of California, Berkeley who studies workers' compensation trends posits that one of the reasons for the jump in frequency is the renewal of activity in the construction industry, which tends to be insured for work injuries.
“Construction is not a huge driver of employment, but it is a huge driver of job injuries,” he told WorkCompCentral. “A 10% to 15% increase in construction employment can drive injury rates up a couple points all by itself.”
There is also the data itself - Neuhauser noted that while the initial data on 2011 showed 77,386 claims filed in the year, the number increased to 78,286 based on more developed data. Tie that to increased payrolls in the insured market (i.e. recovering economy) and the disparity can be accounted for.
“I suspect there is not much difference between these two groups,” he said. “The rates aren’t fully developed in the self-insured data and rates are being driven higher for insured employers because of increased employment in industries that drive rates.”
Bob Young, communications director for CWCI and the author of the report analyzing the OSIP data, said he doesn’t think the difference in frequency for insured and self-insured employers is significant. Young credits the greater control self insured employers exert over safety, claims management, and employee management.
Maybe the numbers really are much to do about nothing. Perhaps there really isn't anything we can learn about claims frequency from the self insured market because it is so different in terms of control, culture, resources, etc.
And maybe the numbers aren't really alarming at all. Maybe these numbers are really showing that the California economy is actually recovering. It seems to me that workers' compensation tends to presage economic trends that don't get recognized by the number crunchers analyzing the economy because those people wait for more information which makes their prognostications generally late.
Maybe we're just getting our wishes fulfilled - we need economic recovery and with that recovery we see increased claims in the base industries that many other industries rely upon for growth.
So I'm not going to be alarmed.
I don't think Julie was alarmed either when she saw her dad in his Navion airplane slouched over in the back seat with an approach plate in his hands. I think she just wasn't prepared for the emotions to come rushing out.
But her dad got his wish - he died in his airplane. There are good things and seemingly bad things that happen, and generally they are tied together. We never get something for nothing.
And so it seems with the economy. Recovery begets frequency. That's how it works.