MASI Conference Day One: Highlights and Impressions

The General Session of the Mississippi Association of Self-Insurers (MASI) conference began today at 9 AM with a legislative update from four chairmen of various Mississippi legislative committees including the House and Senate Insurance Committees. The discussion centered around the concept of wellness generally (a continuing theme throughout several speakers’ presentations) plus the specific implementation of the major workers’ comp reform bill passed back in 2012. The speakers, all intimately involved in workers’ comp in the state, see improvements, but also anticipate challenges in both the courts and in the legislature. Mark Formby, Chairman of the Mississippi House Rules Committee, discussed his opinion that it takes roughly three years to pass a solid bill and admitted frankly, “I can tell you all that sometimes two-thirds of the legislation we pass is fixing things that got messed up the first time…” The comprehensive update also included a presentation of bills that did not pass but could arise in the upcoming session. MASI represents the interests of both self-insured health and self-insured workers’ comp, so the day’s speakers often addressed the shared dynamic in cost savings between health insurance premiums for the employer and the cost of workers’ comp claims. As in Louisiana, reform is a long, never fully settled question in Mississippi, but the right to self-insure and the importance of worker (injured or not) wellness remained a constant refrain.

Although the crowd had a tendency to trickle in and out of the conference room throughout the day, the Keynote Address by General Harold A. Cross was an obvious highlight and the room was clearly riveted. In an eloquent half hour speech that incorporated both humor and drama, Cross emphasized workers’ comp and community improvement in terms of international significance. Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, Samuel Adams and Longfellow throughout, Cross pushed for greater awareness of what he termed the “American spirit” in both the insurance industry and every day life. He rhetorically invoked the image of the sun rising over the international date line, slowly awakening the peoples of the world, and gave a rousing description of comparative American privilege in the face of an ever more challenging system of global politics. Freedom, in Cross’s understanding, is the light we must strive for as a nation of leaders. Urging the audience to “do the duty beyond your duties,” Cross explained how every American has a responsibility to give back to their community for the sake of what is now a global good.

Workers’ comp, he asserted, is part of this effort. Cross explained: “The big thing that I know about workers’ compensation is that it has a lot of adversaries, the seas are not always smooth, the skies are not always blue, the tempest comes and the tides certainly are not always high. We have to learn how to manage that adversarial relationship.”

Among the efforts to help foster understanding within the differing sectors of the workers’ comp community, was a “mock hearing” session which recreated a hearing with a Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission administrative judge. In fact, the attorneys in the faux case were WCC Judges Deneise Lott and Trey Arnold. After the recreation, both Lott and Arnold indicated that the newest issues with which the Mississippi workers’ compensation system will have to contend are: the intoxication defense and appropriation cases. Since Mississippi passed their reform bill, post-accident drug and alcohol screenings have been a major boon for the defense and as in Louisiana, a positive drug test results in a presumption that the accident was caused because the individual was intoxicated. However, Lott and Arnold cautioned that it was rarely so clear cut in court. Especially with the rise of prescription drugs for recreational use and the possibility of conflicting medical testimony regarding the half-lives of these drugs, the intoxication defense is only a given in some, very solid cases.

In terms of atmosphere, MASI’s selection of the Beau Rivage conference space a floor above the casino area was a beautiful benefit of attendance, and the lunch buffet was a second substantial benefit. Several diners remarked on the nutritious yet flavorful menu and the convenience of having lunch and breaks served in the exhibit hall in order to easily network and find old friends. However, this attendee believes the exhibit hall, though relatively small, would have been bustling anyway. Several major companies related to both health and workers’ comp, including Midlands and Helios (formerly Progressive Medical/PMSI), which both also operate in Louisiana and nationwide, had attractive booths. The congeniality of the conference theme, that is, “Blues: It’s Alright,” did seem to permeate the mood and likely will again during tomorrow’s session.

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