Louisiana Comp Blog’s new “Women in Comp” series highlights the role of women in the workers’ comp industry in Louisiana. These exceptional business leaders will discuss their careers and backgrounds, plus explore what it means to be female in the insurance world.
Our inaugural interview for the series is Elizabeth Lowry, Area Manager at the Metairie office of CorVel Corporation. Read on for Lowry’s candid thoughts about the workers’ comp industry in our state and the challenges executive women face in today’s workplace and larger social structure.
Comp Blog: Tell me about your personal background. Are you originally from Louisiana?
Lowry: I was born in New Orleans so I’m a native, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that I grew up in a New Orleans household. My parents are Cuban, they moved to the United States in 1968, so I’m a child of immigrants! Not only that but I’m actually the first born in the United States, my sisters were all born in Havana, Cuba.
So I grew up in this very traditional Cuban household but right in the middle of Kenner, Louisiana, right by the airport! I’ve been in Louisiana really my entire life and career. I very much identify with this community personally, went to public school in Kenner and when I graduated went straight to the University of New Orleans.
Comp Blog: Do you have any thoughts about the recent news on Cuba-U.S. relations then?
Lowry: When I visited Cuba in 1999, I was shocked at how broadly and easily the communist regime was able to divert the attention from their own oppressive policies and push blame on the U.S. by using the Embargo as a scapegoat for Cuba’s economic woes. Maybe it’s time we took that excuse away. I heard someone comment on the news that opening up commerce would not influence the fall of communism. Well, fifty years of Embargo hasn’t either. I also visited about a year ago and found it improved in the last fifteen years, it would be great to see my family more often. It’s a beautiful place, but also kind of sad.
Comp Blog: What did you pursue at the University of New Orleans?
Lowry: My first degree was in Marketing, but shortly after I finished, I decided to stick around for grad school. I took a job at the university as a student worker, but within a couple of months, they offered me a full-time position in the College of Business. After graduating with my MBA in ’99, I worked my way up – in marketing, finance, operations – all the way to Chief of Staff. That was a huge and challenging role! But also very exciting, and it gave me such a wide breadth of experience. I owe so much of my management training, both in and out of the classroom, to UNO.
Comp Blog: So what made you leave?
Lowry: I left with the change of university leadership at the end of 2010 and started teaching Marketing for the Freeman School of Business at Tulane.
Comp Blog: How did you get started in the world of workers’ comp?
Lowry: Well, when I was at Tulane a recruiter called and said, “What do you think about workers’ compensation?” I believe my exact words in response were: “I really don’t think about workers’ compensation!”
But the recruiter kept talking and told me that there was a company called CorVel Corporation that had asked for an up-and-comer outside of the industry. At first I said emphatically that I was a higher ed person, and it might not be a good fit. But really, I had been an operations manager over a $120 million budget, and though I had only limited experience with the Office of Risk Management at the university, it piqued my interest. I’d just come out of a situation where budget cuts and austerity was life, and the thought of working with a company that was growing and expanding was quite a draw.
Our VP was looking for someone that was going to come in and ask the difficult questions and propel the state branch forward.
Comp Blog: How did that go? Was it challenging to learn all about a new industry transitioning from higher ed to workers’ comp?
Lowry: Challenging but very worthwhile! What I did was immerse myself in insurance and workers’ compensation specifically. If there was a continuing ed seminar, WCAC meeting, or a RIMS event, I attended it!
LASIE was also a wonderful resource for me, which is one of the reasons I’ve been so committed to trying to give back to LASIE. What I also did to build traction was travel around to train with my colleagues in our neighboring Southern states. One of the great things about being with a national company is that I have access to counterparts in all 50 states and can draw from their experiences.
Comp Blog: You are on the Board of LASIE now right?
Lowry: Yes, I was nominated and officially started my service at the beginning of 2015. I was previously on the advisory committee and I was Chair of Membership this past year, so that was my transitional path.
Comp Blog: Do you, as a representative of CorVel or personally, belong to any other organizations?
Lowry: We work closely with PRIMA and with RIMS, both of which are very valuable organizations, and with LABI as well. Outside of Louisiana, MASI (Mississippi Association of Self Insurers) has also been really helpful for comparison of the regulatory environment.
Comp Blog: The workers’ comp industry here is relatively small and can be insular. How did you find the experience of navigating that?
Lowry: I value experience and I don’t want to downplay that. There are many people on my staff that I intentionally hired with experience, almost as a way to compliment my big picture approach to strategy, and I definitely need that personal expertise. However, I do think that it’s been very valuable for us to have a mix of both: outside perspective and industry veterans with years and years of experience. One of my adjusters has been in the industry for a long time and she is incredibly valuable because I can go and ask her about a specific judge or doctor and she can tell me all about it. But it can’t be everyone that’s coming from the inside because then, in my opinion, you just get stuck.
Comp Blog: Please explain your work with CorVel: what does your typical day look like?
Lowry: A typical day looks nothing like the previous day. Every day is a combination of trying to balance fires and operational issues with being strategic and making the right big picture moves.
Even though we’re a national company and I call upon those resources and team members regularly, one of the real advantages of being a small office of about 20 people and being in Louisiana specifically is that we are very close to our clients. For a national company, we have a surprisingly small gap between the direct client, injured workers and ourselves, and that’s part of my general philosophy. Whatever the customer needs that day, that’s what needs to happen.
Comp Blog: What do you perceive to be the most significant challenge facing Louisiana’s workers’ comp system right now – the one thing that just must be resolved?
Lowry: Outpatient! Louisiana is an outlier by reimbursing at 90% of billed charges, with no guidelines or limits for what is a reasonable charge. Most insurers and self-insureds aren’t trying to shortchange providers, but just to get it right – and fair and reasonable. We’re fortunate to have great relationships with many providers. We have a dialogue, explain our reductions, get the necessary documentation, and we end with a reasonable agreement. A 1008 isn’t even considered before a discussion, and that’s the way it should be every time. But unfortunately, a select few trouble-makers on both sides have soured the entire industry.
A great start for everyone involved would be an updated fee schedule to normalize both inpatient and outpatient reimbursements. And simultaneously revamp or clarify the 1008 process so that penalties and attorney’s fees are not an incentive for either party. I don’t think that three thousand dollars of fees for five dollars of reductions, many times which end up coming out of taxpayer dollars, is truly what lawmakers intended.
Comp Blog: What has been your greatest professional moment thus far in your career?
Lowry: I feel daily fulfillment when I see my clients happy and when I see my employees succeed. I get ongoing gratification when I see the success of my team and my company and my clients.
Being chosen for the Board of LASIE was also a big deal for me. I think it’s a great opportunity to make an impact and effect the process on a systemic level.
Comp Blog: How would you describe your professional philosophy?
Lowry: I’d have to say, care and communication. It’s very important for me that our clients have access to me personally and to the top members of my team. It sounds cliché, but truly having an open door policy internally and externally – full transparency. CorVel has a really unique model of medical management, and though we understand that our model doesn’t work for everybody, when we are able to really partner with our customers and their employees, it makes a difference. Care and communication trickles down to the injured worker, and that extra attention has drastically reduced litigation for many of our clients.
We can get really jaded in this industry and think about the two folks out of every fifty that want to cause a problem, but in reality, most people just want to go to the doctor, get well, and go back to work.
Comp Blog: How about your personal philosophy?
Lowry: I would say “lifetime learner” or “POOGI:” Process Of Ongoing Improvement.
Comp Blog: Do you have any personal hobbies or passions?
Lowry: Outside of work, one of the things that I guess is a unique hobby is that I sing opera.
Comp Blog: Opera is quite a hobby! Have you performed professionally?
Lowry: I do perform regularly. In fact, I’ll be singing in The Marriage of Figaro with the New Orleans Opera in April. It’s one of those things that’s kept me sane and helped me feel fulfilled. Once I auditioned with them and they cast me I really felt like a legitimate singer!
Comp Blog: The insurance industry actually employs a comparatively high number of women worldwide, but women remain scarce in management and executive level positions. What do you have to say about that in your own career, especially because you are both a minority and a woman?
Lowry: Broadly, I think it has influenced who I am and I think it has influenced my motivation. As a minority and a woman I felt that I had to work extra hard to prove myself. However, I haven’t ever had a direct issue with being discriminated against gender-wise. If anything, I have felt discriminated against because of my age. More than anything I have been seen as young for the positions that I have held, and so people want to de-legitimize you. So you have to speak when it matters. I’ve felt that as a woman, as a minority, and as a young person, I’ve had to be very selective in my voice. Otherwise, if you speak too loudly and too often, your voice becomes perceived as noise.
Comp Blog: How would you characterize finding that voice and overcoming female stereotypes in general?
Lowry: Focusing on the “why” of what you’re saying and being concise and selective is very important. I’ve always been very cautious to control my emotions to have an image of more masculine qualities, and in some ways that’s unfortunate. Although that’s also part of my innate personality as well and it’s allowed me to be more successful.
Comp Blog: Could you elaborate on your youth and the bias you encountered: what would you like to see in the future?
Lowry: I’d love to see organizations, their hiring managers, and their boards, make concerted efforts to hire and appoint diversely – not just race or gender diversity, but age and background. Diversity of thought is key.
Comp Blog: Traditionally “masculine” qualities like being career-driven and rational can sometimes cause professional women to be, as we’ve discussed, de-legitimized by the dominant culture. Can you speak to that?
Lowry: Yes, some of the qualities that I possess are seen as positive in a man and often viewed negatively in a woman. They can cause you to be perceived as cold. So that’s an issue socially that I and women like me have to grapple with, but I have pride in that sense of the self. I also think women need to support other women. We shouldn’t be mad at each other for trying to better ourselves in our careers, even if we all don’t make the same choices. Rumors and bad attitudes hurt all of us.
However, one of the things that I see as a similarity aside from gender between higher ed and the workers’ comp industry is that they are both very collegial. While it can be very competitive, your colleagues in other companies, even your direct competitors, most of the time want to help you. They want to see the success of the industry. I loved that about academia and I see that in the insurance industry.
Comp Blog: So what does the future hold for you?
Lowry: My goal is to be a true policy-maker, whether it’s in an Executive-level position in the private sector, or at the state level. I want to make a difference. And when I retire, to be a scuba instructor on some beautiful remote island…but that’s a story for another day.
Editor’s Note: Louisiana Comp Blog is currently seeking subjects for future “Women in Comp” features. If you would like to nominate or participate, please contact us.