Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dog Bite a "Toothsayer" for Work Comp

My dog is an eleven year old Anatolian Shepard Dog (ASD).
Mr. Bigg Guarding Flock

He's 115 pounds and aptly named "Bigg Dogg", aka "Mr. Bigg".

Because of his age, he's a bit creaky now, particularly his hips. Probably didn't help at age eight when he jumped off the second floor balcony to chase some rogue canine mix with a curly tail that was off leash - ASDs are very regimented in their behavior and do not like other dogs that fail to conform to their idea of good behavior.

He's been through major surgery. At about age six he developed a twisted stomach which required a week in the doggy hospital and a good layout of cash. He was worth it. He returned to good health, and good utility - providing guardian services to his flock of four humans (now down to two due to, thankfully, the intervention of college for our children) and four cats. He nears the outer envelope of his life.

He doesn't walk as much as he used to. He certainly doesn't run ... anywhere. His bark is still loud, and his teeth are still white and sharp, but his tail doesn't curl anymore and he has a lot of grey on his muzzle.

We walked him to the groomer down the street the other day to get his nails trimmed.

Chris, the groomer, is a very nice young man, newly married, getting ready to start a family. He's trimmed Mr. Bigg's nails for several years now. Mr. Bigg likes Chris. Chris means treats.

This time though, Chris was explaining that he just started shoeing horses.

Mr. Bigg is like a horse. I guess that's what brought that topic up.

And Chris did something different this time in trimming the nails of Mr. Bigg - he pulled the right rear leg back like one would on a horse.

That was enough pain to cause Mr. Bigg to immediately and without warning clamp his very large, powerful jaws onto Chris' arm.

Yikes! Clearly two deep puncture wounds on the forearm of Chris will cause some deep bruising so that the tattooed fish near the bite marks will look like it is swimming in octopus ink.

Chris kept his cool though. He's been there before, he explained. No big deal. Dog bites are a risk factor in his line of work, and he proceeded to finish trimming Mr. Bigg's nails using the same technique he had in the past - back feet just remain on the ground.

Besides the obvious lesson in workers' compensation, Chris and Mr. Bigg portend other soothsayer qualities in the "been there before" experience.

Risk happens. Management of risk mitigates either the frequency or impact, sometimes both, but eventually risk happens.

The California Workers' Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) yesterday said in its Actuarial Committee that rates are going to go up - that's really no surprise.

What is surprising is that the WCIRB said that frequency was up for the second year in a row. That is surprising to me because of the deep unemployment that continues to bedevil California.

In accident years 2010 and 2011, 15.6 claims were filed per 1,000 workers, an increase of 9% compared to the 14.3 claims per 1,000 workers filed in accident year 2009. Since 1993, the only other increase in indemnity claim frequency was a 1.3% rise from 1999 to 2000.

What is not surprising is that both medical costs and indemnity costs are up significantly since the Schwarzenegger "reforms".

The estimated cost of medical benefits per indemnity claim was $42,247 in 2010, the Rating Bureau said. That's about the same as in 2009, but 41.6% higher than the $28,449 average in 2004.

And while average wage loss benefits paid per indemnity claim dropped 1.1% to $23,248 in 2010 from $23,517 in 2009, it is about 33% higher than the $16,996 paid in 2005.

These increases will fuel new "reform" debates, no question. The Brown Administration has indicated that it wants to approve an increase in permanent disability indemnity but that it won't do so in a piecemeal fashion and that any increase in costs associated with indemnity must come out of some other piece of the pie.

There aren't many slices in that pie. If indemnity is cut into its two pieces, temporary and permanent, the only way to increase the permanent slice is to decrease the duration of the temporary slice. That risk factor has been studied and worked for some time - my feeling is that there is insufficient pie for that rearrangement. In addition that piece of the pie has an automatic inflation adjustment so it will always grow.

There is no vocational rehabilitation and the supplemental job voucher slice that took the voc rehab portion is too small for anyone to consider.

Pretty much the only pie slice left is medical - both treatment and medical-legal. And the WCIRB stats reflect the medical component as the only viable slice available for redistribution.

Work comp is 100 years old. It has some aches and pains. When you tug on an achy joint sometimes you get a warning bite.

"Reform" is coming. The medical community had its warning bite and is going to get bit again. Ouch. It's going to be a purple, painful bruise.

Those getting bit will gather their wits, mitigate the risks, and carry on with trimming the nails.

And that's how it is in workers' compensation. You might say that Mr. Bigg is a "toothsayer."

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