City Hall seeking to hold down workers’ comp expenses

The city is finally getting a handle on its long-standing problem of managing worker’s compensation expenses, the city’s newly hired risk manager told a New Orleans City Council committee last week.

Adolph “Al” Delaparte told the council’s Budget Committee on Thursday that the city is employing a variety of strategies to bring costs down, including proactive measures such as trying to reduce the number of injuries by training employees then reinforcing that training later on.

To reduce costs after claims are filed, Delaparte said, the office will use “aggressive investigation” that includes medical reviews and follow-ups.

“Basically, we want to pay what needs paying. We want to settle what needs settling. And we want to defend what needs defending,” he said.

The cost-management measures are not intended as a way to shortchange employees who are hurt on the job, he said.

“If you were injured in the service of the city of New Orleans, then we want to wrap our arms around you. We want to make sure that you get all the attention that you need,” Delaparte said. “If you’re one of those rare individuals who does not have a valid worker’s comp claim or is trying to work the system, then we also ... want to pursue those individuals and make sure they don’t take advantage of the city.”

Other upcoming changes to the management of the worker’s compensation system include the development of a new “return-to-work program” that would transition employees back into work after an injury. The city already has a “light duty” program that provides less-demanding work for returning injured workers, but Delaparte said it needs to be improved and marketed to various city offices to get the kind of buy-in that will make it successful.

Delaparte’s presentation was intended to inform the council about how the city has fared in implementing the recommendations of forensic auditor Bickmore Risk Services, a California firm that was commissioned by the city last year to identify ways to save money.

Expenditures for worker’s compensation claims have risen steadily since at least 2010, when the city paid $18 million to injured workers. Last year, those payments totaled $24.2 million.

Bickmore investigated 70 claims from injured workers and, in October, gave the city a set of recommendations to rein in spending.

Delaparte said the city expects to hit its 2014 budget target of $23.3 million, reducing payments to injured workers by $864,000 from the 2013 figure.

“The good news is that we’re pretty much on track with the projections for this year for the budget,” he said, though he urged caution because several expenses — including a $300,000 self-insured fund assessment and a $1 million second injury fund assessment — aren’t included in the current figures.

He also noted that usually more worker’s compensation claims are filed in the summer than earlier in the year.