Health care policy makers have become more interested in workers’ compensation as the majority of costs in the system are medical and are growing rapidly. While getting employees back to work quickly is still a major objective, much of the current focus is on controlling medical spending. The Workers Compensation Research Institute conducts extensive research into many aspects of workers’ compensation and publishes an annual report summarizing that work. (WCRI Report) One of its major works in the last year was publishing the 11th edition of the Compscope Medical Benchmarks, which help regulators and payers identify trends in prices, payments and utilization and explore variation among states. A subset publication, Prescription Benchmarks, is in its 2d edition, and focuses on the growing drug category, which lends itself to particular abuse in workers’ compensation, since most of the prescribing is for pain medications.
Outpatient hospital costs were also studied, with findings demonstrating the value of fee schedules in controlling spending. Another report summarizes all the medical cost containment efforts state-by-state, which allows comparison of spending trends with cost control methods. Specific conditions are researched, for example, variation in treatment of low back pain, which showed very large differences in testing and treatments across states. Techniques such as controlling provider choice and preauthorization of services are explored. There are a number of state specific reports, usually focusing on recent reforms. Finally, there was a very interesting article on factors that influence return to work, showing that regulatory policies which clarify that benefits won’t last forever can help get people back to work sooner.