If your company has 500 employees or less, you want to be in a group rating program to get better workers’ compensation rates. However, some court rulings have decreased the amount of group credits and increased rates for group rated employers.

“It’s still the best thing going for the small to medium-size employer,” says Richard B. Hite, CEO at SeibertKeck Insurance Agency. “The group is a fantastic idea, and an employer can receive much lower workers’ compensation premiums.”

Smart Business spoke with Hite about the advantages of a group rating program and how the landscape has changed.

How does group rating save money?

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) allows employers with better than average claim histories to join together through a sponsoring organization for the purpose of being rated as a large group. As a standalone business with no losses, you might only develop an experience modification of a 5 to 7 percent credit off your rates. However, when combined with thousands of other companies in a group, your company can earn up to a 53 percent credit to your base rates. The credits can vary for individual businesses, depending on your type of business, whom you are grouped with, final loss figures, total enrollment and reported payroll.

What are other benefits of enrolling?

A third-party administrator (TPA) will manage your claims cost-effectively and aggressively, as well as representing you at Industrial Commission hearings for contested claims. You also have real-time access to claims information rather than trying to obtain it directly from the BWC.
The TPA physically reviews your rates and classifications assigned to your company. Many times the company classifications are wrong because of a change in operations or they were incorrect from the beginning. All of this can result in higher premiums.

The TPA also provides training, education, bulletins, seminars, newsletters, etc. It will help you receive various other credits for safety or a drug-free environment, too.

What happens if you have a large loss?

With a group rating, if you have a shock loss, a death claim or a large medical claim, you can be asked to leave at the end of the policy year. Typically that precludes you from any group for two or three years, as all groups look at your current year and the previous three years of claim history. After you’ve been relatively loss free for two or three years, many groups allow you to re-enroll.

The problem is you might have been enjoying 45 percent credit, but now have a 35 percent debit — an 80-percentage point rate swing. For a lot of small businesses, that creates a financial strain since premiums can double the next year. Extra dollars in premiums could result in a workforce reduction.

If asked to leave, you still can sign a contract with the TPA to help you limit and possibly prevent other losses with the goal of returning to a group plan.

How are recent court rulings impacting workers’ compensation?

Some recent rulings in favor of plaintiffs in Cuyahoga County have hurt the rating structure of group plans. The argument was that if Company A has a bad claims history and pays a $20 rate per hundred, but Company B is in a group rating paying $5 per hundred, that creates an unfair advantage in a public bid situation because of the lower workers’ compensation costs.

As a result, the BWC decreased the maximum group credit to 53 percent and raised classification rates as much as 21 percentage points versus nongroup rates. This action seeks to equalize the playing field, in the court’s opinion.

In addition, on May 3 the governor authorized the release of $1 billion of ‘overpaid premiums’ to private employers and public taxing groups for the 2011 rating year as a result of another court ruling. Employers are receiving rebate checks for 56 percent of premiums paid in 2011.

With the increase in rates for groups and the decrease in the credits, many companies have to decide whether to stay in the group. While it may no longer be as cost-effective, you get extra services — aggressive claims management, hearing representation, rate analysis, etc. — and service means everything to your experience and rates.

Richard B. Hite is CEO of SeibertKeck Insurance Agency. Reach him at (330) 865-6573 or rhite@seibertkeck.com.

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Published in Akron/Canton