Keeping an Eye on Third Parties

Outsourcing the management of workers' comp programs poses hidden perils.

Self-insuring workers’ compensation risks can be a good move if companies manage the risks well and estimate their liability accurately. Self-insurers can pay less to cover their exposures, and have a powerful incentive to prevent injuries from happening in the first place. But, experts warn, companies must also be aware of the risks inherent in outsourcing the administration of self-insured plans. CFOs typically rely on risk managers to oversee such arrangements, and those managers often turn to third-party administrators (TPAs) to handle the management of claims and medical costs. But without a clear understanding of TPAs’ relationships with medical- and claims-services providers, some say, these arrangements can lead to waste and perhaps even fraud.

According to one senior sales executive for a managed-care organization specializing in workers compensation, delegating the lion’s share of management to TPAs is tantamount to “the complete outsourcing of the risk manager’s fiduciary responsibility to the organization and its shareholders, by allowing these service providers to control what should be viewed as a line of credit.” Since legal liability remains with the company, he adds, a self-insured corporation’s lax management of workers’ comp outlays could represent “a huge hole in internal controls.”

In one recent case, internal auditors found that administrators of the Broward County School District did a “woefully inadequate” job of managing the Florida county district’s TPA, Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., costing taxpayers perhaps millions of dollars, according to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The auditors charged that the district’s “casual interest” in the operation of the self-insured workers’ comp program led to poor choices of health-care providers and medical overbilling. The horror stories included the payment of $2,800 to a case worker for accompanying an asthma patient on a visit to the doctor. (Gallagher Bassett declined comment to the newspaper. For more on this case, see cfo.com.)

To be sure, it’s no easy task for a risk manager to track payments to and from the various managed-care companies, bill-review outfits, nurse case-management firms, and the host of other vendors that TPAs contract with on behalf of self-insured clients. But critics say that such lack of oversight can result in substantially higher costs. In particular, arrangements made between managed-care firms and TPAs may include payments from the managed-care firm to the TPA. These payments may motivate the TPA to approve managed-care services they might otherwise not, warns Joseph Paduda, principal at Health Strategy Associates, a Madison, Connecticut-based workers’ comp and managed-care consultancy.

Although no TPA or services vendor has yet been accused of wrongdoing, state regulators have homed in on this complex web of relationships. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has subpoenaed two workers’ comp TPAs and one service provider — Gallagher Basset, Crawford & Co., and Concentra Integrated Services Inc. (CISI). While regulators haven’t yet spelled out just what they are investigating, Concentra said in a press release that in its case, the matter regards “CISI’s relationships with third-party administrators and health-care providers in connection with [Spitzer's] review of contractual relationships in the workers’ compensation industry.” Richard Parr, CISI’s general counsel, did not provide further comment on the case, but did say that the “kind of transparency and disclosure” that the investigation might spawn would be “a good thing for the industry.” Meanwhile, the state of Florida’s CFO, Tom Gallagher, has set up a task force to look into broker practices in the insurance industry (including workers’ compensation), also with transparency as its goal. The task force has already issued subpoenas.

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