Thursday, March 20, 2008

Has Workers Comp Been Rigged For Decades?

A lot of employers, in their more cynical moments, have probably felt that Workers' Comp insurance is definitely rigged against them. Now, according to the largest insurance company in the world, those suspicions may have been confirmed.

AIG is in the middle of a federal lawsuit brought by the NCCI, the National Council on Compensation Insurance. AIG is a member of NCCI, but NCCI has filed suit for a billion dollars, claiming that under-reporting of Workers Comp premiums by AIG has harmed the other NCCI member insurance companies.

AIG has already settled charges brought by a number of states over this issue--settled them by paying several hundred million dollars, without admitting wrongdoing. But NCCI says the harm done to other insurers is more than that--a cool billion dollars more.

By under-reporting Workers Comp premiums, NCCI says AIG dodged out on their fair share of assessments and taxes that help fund various assigned risk programs. And so the other insurance companies would have had to pick up the slack.

But now in federal court here in Chicago, AIG has defended itself by claiming that all the other major insurance companies have done the same, since the 1980's. AIG says that Liberty Mutual, Travelers, Hartford, CIGNA, Aetna, ACE, Sentry, and others all under-reported Workers Comp premiums for decades.

The thing is, if this is true, it would have done more than just dodge assigned risk assessments. It would have seriously distorted the data that NCCI (and other rating organizations) have used to calculate the manual rates charged on every Workers Compensation insurance policy for the past twenty years or so. Every employer who bought Workers' Comp insurance (save those in monopoly state funds) would have been overcharged, because the manual rates would have been higher than they should have been. After all, if insurers are reporting all their claims, but not reporting all the premiums they're getting in, the fundamental data used to figure out those manual rates would be skewed in favor of higher rates.

I've made my living for the past 25 years catching insurance companies overcharging employers--and then getting that money back--but even I am shocked at this latest development. I've always chalked up the errors I found to innocent mistakes made in a complex system. But what AIG is alleging would be a systemic overcharge on every Workers Compensation insurance policy that's been going on since the 1980's. The mind boggles.

Now, it must be kept in mind that this is just an allegation, made by an insurance company that already has major blots on its own ethical record. Only time (and the federal court) will tell how much substance these charges really have. But if even a portion of what AIG is saying turns out to be true, somebody's gonna have a lot of explaining to do.