Inspired by a stunning presentation by Accident Fund Director of Innovation Jeffrey Austin White and a terrific session at NCCI by Salim Ismail, I’m going to be posting occasionally on the future of workers’ comp. This future is one that is rarely discussed, mostly ignored, and often pooh-poohed.
I’ve been involved in comp since 1988 – some 27 years, and focused on work comp almost exclusively for 20+. There have been some changes over the last two decades, but these changes have been incremental, minor, relatively insignificant, and certainly not disruptive.
The next two decades will make the last look stagnant, stuck, frozen.
We aren’t talking offshoring of nurse case management to Manila, or document management to Ghana, or IT to Ukraine, or radiology reads to India. That’s tweaking around the edges to arbitrage labor costs – but certainly not disruptive.
What is coming is DISRUPTIVE – disruptive like gunpowder was to warfare, steam to transportation, mechanization to industrial production, internal combustion to transportation.
Driven by massive and almost free computing power, faster and better 3-D printing, incredibly cheap data storage and speed-of-light access to that data, artificial intelligence that in many ways is already far smarter than we biological beings, the future is:
- automated logistics drastically reducing the number of humans “driving”
- construction costs dropping just as rapidly as construction speed is increased, with ever-decreasing need for human participation
- the all-but-disappearance of humans working in agriculture
- computers doing accounting, sales, marketing, planning, customer “service”
Before we get too deep into this, let’s start with something that is directly affecting workers comp today – prostheses.
The science is evolving so rapidly that there are now prostheses that are controlled by nerves firing in the brain, prostheses that can essentially replace human limbs. These are far better than your muscle-controlled artificial arm, which was a huge step up from the wooden leg and hook-for-a-hand “technology”
Think about this. A worker loses an arm in a crushing accident. The new arm is:
- immensely capable, able to do anything the biological arm can, and
- extremely expensive
- serviceable and upgradable, albeit at a hefty cost.
A few top-of-mind implications.
- is the worker “disabled”? one could argue absolutely not.
- can this claim be “settled”? only if future maintenance and upgrades are covered.
- is there a payment for “disfigurement”?
- if the arm is more capable than the human arm, who pays for that additional capability and why?
This is already an issue in workers’ comp as judges are dealing with medical necessity issues related to prostheses every day.
And that’s just one thing – prostheses for amputees.
Future posts will scratch the surface of automated driving, big data-driven risk assessment and underwriting, return-to-work, and myriad other topics.
What does this mean for you?
The last 20 years are to the next 20 years as the Middle Ages were to the 1800s…