Legionnaires Disease Deserves More Attention

Often, a new disease breaks out that has doctors and pubic health professionals

Legionella Under the Microscope. U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).Public Domain.

Legionella Under the Microscope. U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).Public Domain.

puzzled and worried. In 2014, it was Ebola. This year, it is the Zika Virus.

There are also potentially fatal illnesses that are preventable and yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seeing cases on the rise. One such example is Legionnaires Disease.

My article, Insurance Implications of Legionnaires Disease, published by the AmWins Group’s The Edge, provides an update on illnesses related to legionella bacteria, along with prevention tips, symptoms and the liability concerns. I hope you find it helpful.

 

For Actuaries and Underwriters, Times Are a-Changin’

AR_Jan-Feb_2016 CoverThe days of actuaries and underwriters applying their crafts through separate roles and responsibilities are on the way out, as my recent Actuarial Review article, Pricing Adjustment, explains.

To be successful in the future, actuaries need to spend more time learning to appreciate the demands underwriters face. Underwriters also need to embrace predictive modeling to appreciate its potential for pricing and marketing, experts say. Surveys show too that insurers are frustrated when their actuaries and underwriters hold to their traditional roles and work against each other.

Embracing a new approach is always easier said than done. It’s only human nature to resist change. Companies like Liberty Mutual, however, are learning that having actuaries and underwriters work more closely together boosts return on investment

Liberty’s national insurance specialty section integrates underwriters and actuaries into functional teams. The results so far have been positive, placing the insurer in a better position to address underwriting challenges while encouraging communication and understanding.

Underwriting is not the only area where actuaries should become more familiar. Past articles I have written also explain how actuaries and statisticians can complement each other and why actuaries and information technology professionals need each other.

The bottom line is the actuarial role is a-changin’. Successful actuaries will embrace new ways to work with other professions to deliver better results.

Happy reading!

Before You Cut and Paste, Obey Copyright Laws

Digital media experts offer lots of advice on howLeader's Edge logo to successfully market online, but rarely do they emphasize the importance of avoiding copyright infringement.

That’s a shame because website owners who are caught re-using blogs from other sites or publishing photos without appropriate permission and attribution can suffer legal and financial consequences. And thanks to special software that finds reproduced images, it’s also easier to get caught.

As I cover in my Leader’s Edge article, Making a Lasting Impression, the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers (CIAB), which publishes the magazine, was reminded of this the hard way.

Stressed for time, an employee published a photo without getting permission, which goes against the CIAB’s policy. As a result, the photographer’s lawyer contacted the organization and offered a settlement fee much higher than the original cost of purchasing permission. CIAB enlisted an attorney to reduce the fee and settle the matter.

_______________
Imitation (or duplication) may be the sincerest form of flattery, but if it is not done legally, the compliment can be costly.
_______________

Kudos to CIAB President and CEO Ken Crerar, who wanted the story told to prevent the same thing from happening to others. I wrote the article to be helpful to readers, so it also offers tips on how to secure permission with or without licensing fees.

The important point to remember is that posting a photo online is a form of publishing and the same laws apply as with print publishing.

Anyone publishing online needs to take care that they do not copy someone else’s work without obtaining permission. Since there are creators who make the effort to find copyright infringers and sue them, it’s worth combing through all publications and web publishing to avoid copyright infringement.

Imitation (or duplication) may be the sincerest form of flattery, but if it is not done legally, the compliment can be costly.

 

Driverless Cars: Beyond the Hype

Not long after I submitted my Actuarial Review article about driverless cars, “60 Minutes” presented a segment, “Hands off the Wheel” on the same subject.AR_Nov-Dec_2015 Cover

Since I had intensely researched the topic, I could not wait to hear what the reporter would tell the general public. Instead of investigative journalism, the segment gave the driverless car industry a boost with little mention of the many unresolved issues and potential unintended consequences.

At its beginning, the reporter said “almost all” car accidents are caused by driver error, noting the safety potential of driverless cars. The truth is, nobody really knows how safe driverless cars will be.

The often-quoted statistic by driverless car advocates is that 93 percent of car accidents are caused by human error. The logic is that by reducing the opportunities for driver mistakes, automated vehicles will be safer.

The statistic and its assumptions, which were also presented as testimony before the U.S. Congress, are very important because they guide the assumptions and expectations of driverless cars. Google also boasts that all of the accidents involving its cars were due to human error.

But when the rubber hits the road, it’s the insurance industry’s opinion that counts. Its actuaries not only have the most experience looking at the factors that lead to accidents, but the industry will be responsible for covering them.

My article, Destination Driverless: Will Vehicles – Not Drivers – Become the Center of Risk?, sets the record straight about the all-important 93 percent statistic thanks to actuarial analysis provided by the Casualty Actuarial Society’s Automated Vehicles Task Force.

The task force concluded that automated technology could only address 78, not 93 percent of accidents if it cannot overcome factors such as weather, vehicle errors and inoperable traffic control devices. Using the 93 percent statistic, the task force also asserts, is problematic for other reasons.

Stemming from a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, the statistic had nothing to do with driverless cars. And, due to its age, the study could not anticipate the latest safety improvements to conventional vehicles.

So what do actuaries need to have a better idea of the potential costs of insuring driverless vehicles? Access to proprietary data that developers and manufacturers naturally are not quick to share.

My article also details other factors that should be considered – especially when human drivers must take the wheel of automatic vehicles. It also covers the challenges that developers must overcome to make them viable in the real world.

What does this mean to the average consumer? Driverless car excitement abounds, but nobody sees significant population of driverless cars for another 20 years.

In the meantime, drivers can expect automated vehicles to gradually join the traffic jam. That transition, in and of itself, could also lead to unintended consequences.

Auto Insurance Purchasing Tips You Probably Don’t Know

Today I published an article about how to shop for automobile insurance. I have to confess I thought I knew a lot about it already. But after speaking with three national experts, I learned how much I did not know.

You really owe it to yourself to check out my article, How to Confidently Shop for Auto Insurance. If I learned something after spending 25 years writing about insurance, chances are you will as well.

Share this article with all your friends. They’ll thank you for it.

Please don’t forget to let me know in the comments section below how much the article helps you.

ACA Could Shift Millions of Dollars to Workers’ Comp, WCRI Finds

imagesIt’s been a question in CompLand ever since President Obama introduced the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2009. Would the law, enacted in 2010, lead to case shifting from health insurance to workers’ compensation?

Case shifting is nothing new. It often arises from gray area claims where the cause of injury might be related to work. An insurance entity does not want to pay bills that another should be paying so naturally, there has been effort to reduce case shifting.

But the ACA puts a new wrinkle on case shifting by encouraging Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) to adopt the age-old managed care capitated spending approach to reduce costs. Understand that this approach puts a lid on annual medical care spending per person (insured). Workers’ compensation, however, provides first dollar coverage, pays on a per-visit basis and limits medical spending by necessity.

Naturally, doctors don’t want to make less money, especially given other pressures such as reductions in Medicare payments. Critics don’t like it either, especially for workers’ compensation, because it can adversely affect quality of care and recovery, which can unnecessarily elongate payment of wage replacement benefits.

So the question is, if you were a medical provider with a “gray area” patient diagnosis, would you rather bill an Obama Care ACO or workers’ comp?

It appears that there is a greater likelihood of filing the patient’s claim under workers’ comp, according to evidence in the Workers Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) study, Will the Affordable Care Act Shift Claims to Workers’ Compensation Payors? As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars could be shifted to workers’ comp.

 _______________
“It appears that there is a greater likelihood of filing the patient’s claim
under workers’ comp.”
_______________

Specifically, the study found that a back injury was 30 percent more likely to be called “work-related” in a state where the patient’s group health insurance was capitated rather than fee for service, according to a WCRI news release issued today.

In fact, the study found, case shifting was “more likely in states where a higher percentage of workers were covered by capitated group health plans,” the release said. In one state where at least 22 percent of workers had capitated group health plans, the odds of a soft tissue case being work-related was 31 percent higher.

In comparison to states where capitation was less common, there was no evidence of case shifting. “It also appears that when capitation was infrequent, the providers were less aware of the financial incentives,” the release said.

I always find WCRI’s research to be top notch. If you are concerned about workers’ compensation medical spending, you should check out their site at www.wcrinet.org.

Manspreading May Cause Butt Dialing

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

The following blog was written by Arlene Miller (a.k.a. the grammar diva) at http://www.bigwords101.com and published here by permission. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Manspreading? Butt dialing? These are real words? Well, yes . . . and no.

The Oxford Dictionary has added 1000 new words to its online dictionary in the latest quarterly update.  Many of these words are slang, such as manspreading and butt dialing.  When words become commonly used, the Oxford Dictionary adds them. Although you now may wonder if such words are now considered esoteric and high falutin — after all, we are talking about the Oxford Dictionary —  think again. The Oxford Dictionary adds words that are in common usage in the English language. However, there is also the Oxford English Dictionary, “the definitive record of the English language.” Although that dictionary is also updated with new words, 500 in the latest update, it is the more formal dictionary. However, both dictionaries are published by the Oxford University Press.

The Oxford Dictionary  – Contains informal and slang words that are common enough to be included.

The Oxford English Dictionary  – Contains new words, but not those considered slang.

Here are some of the highlights of new words added to the Oxford Dictionary:

Manspreading – This word was coined by commuters and refers to men on public transportation who sit with their legs wide apart, thus taking up more than one seat so no one can sit in the surrounding seats.

Butt dialing – Accidentally calling someone with your cell phone in a rear pocket (possibly while you are manspreading).

Awesomesauce Great or wonderful. I have heard this word only on an insurance commercial. I am surprised it is even slang.

Beer o’clock and wine o’clock No, I didn’t make this up. I think you probably decide what times these really are.

Cat cafe – I had never heard of this before my daughter happened to tell me about it a few days ago. Imagine a Starbucks combined with a cat shelter. Yes, this is where customers come to play with cats who live at the cafe.

Brain fart – This one had been around a while and is a temporary loss of mental capacity

Bruh – Used to refer to a male friend and often used as a form of address.

Cakeage –  Like corkage for wine, a charge made by a restaurant for serving a cake they have not supplied.

Hangry – Just like it sounds, being irritable and angry because one is hungry.

Fat-shame – To humiliate someone by making fun of their size. (Now, that’s bullying!)

Fur baby – A pet cat, dog, or other furry animal.

Mx – A title used before a person’s name that does not specify gender.

Rage-quit- To become frustrated with some activity, commonly a video game, and quit in anger.

Rando – A person whom one doesn’t know who is likely acting suspicious or weird.

Redditor – A registered user of the website Reddit.

Snackable – Online content that is easily read and digested.

Swatting – Making a hoax call to  emergency services to bring a large number of armed police officers to a particular address.

Weak sauce – Something of poor quality. This must be the opposite of awesome sauce.

I was going to make you wait until next week, but I won’t! Here are some of the 500 new words that have been added to the fancier Oxford English Dictionary in the its recent update:

  • autotune
  • Blu-ray
  • comedogenic
  • comedy of errors
  • crowdfunding
  • declutter
  • go-for-it (adjective)
  • half-ass (adjective)
  • hardwire (adjective)
  • hot mess
  • jeggings (jean leggings)
  • netbook
  • photobomb
  • retweet
  • sexting
  • staycation
  • tan line
  • twerk
  • -uber (as a prefix)
  • wuss

To Write Successful Marketing Content, Think Like A Journalist

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

Online content marketing is an essential way to reach potential customers. This approach has certainly worked for my clients and my company.

The primarily goal of content marketing is to provide “organic” content — as opposed to advertising — to boost Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to attract potential customers.

While executives can get excited about the bells and whistles of technical SEO, the truth is that content remains king. After all, if the written material does not attract search engines to your website, what’s the point?

So it’s curious to me that so many companies do not make the necessary investment for unique and useful content that is more likely to garner the all-coveted higher search engine rankings.

You no doubt see the results every time you do an Internet search. Since anyone can publish on the Internet without editorial scrutiny or peer review, the cyber world is filled with a lot of distracting and frustrating written refuse. There’s too much content “noise” on the Internet: material that is too generic, doesn’t answer reader questions or even worse, is duplicative from other websites.

The explanation for Internet noise is simple. Content marketing is a form of self-publishing and yet, much online copy is not produced by publishing professionals.

So to become an awesome content marketer, you need to think more like a quality-minded publisher or journalist. Consider this: just as a byline is the journalist’s brand, the material your organization publishes reflects its brand. Some experts call this brand journalism.

Publishers and journalists understand they must thoroughly know their audiences to offer content so compelling that busy people will sacrifice their time to read it. Yes, I mean sacrifice. By publishing a piece, you are asking the viewer to read your stuff instead of doing something else.

Frankly, I am always amazed at the marketing hype that gets published by people who don’t want to spend their precious time reading the hype of others.

_____________

Is your company’s content so awesome
that someone would actually pay
for the privilege of reading it?
_____________

I’ve also been equally shocked by how many professionals I have encountered who are not well acquainted with their customers’ needs and situations. Such information is necessary for producing quality content that will best serve customers. Investing in interviews, surveys or focus groups is a great way to know your customers better. (And by the way, you’ll also get great content ideas.)

The key is to show – not just tell the customer – why your firm is unique and how that equates to better products and services. That means no direct sales material or the blah, blah, blah about your company’s greatness. Ways to show, instead of tell are: publishing expert advice and insight, providing testimonials and case studies that solve common problems.

Professionals with publishing backgrounds understand that to make money, they must produce material that is so credible, useful and compelling that a person would buy it (through subscription) or it will attract enough readers to sell advertising.

Ask yourself a question. Is your company’s content so awesome that someone would actually pay for the privilege of reading it? If so, they will keep coming to your website for more!

Your organization’s content should showcase your expertise and build credibility with your potential and current clients. This is another reason why I recommend a journalistic approach. Strict journalistic standards push out the hype and sloppy content because every sentence must be justified.

Such journalistic standards include:

  • Knowing the reader. This cannot be emphasized enough! 
  • Assuring accuracy. Fact-check and double fact check when referencing other authors or sources. That means that proper nouns must always be correct or they are factual errors. 
  • Clarifying the purpose of the article, blog or other material and ensuring it answers the famous: who, what, when, where, why and how questions. 
  • Being specific. Instead of writing, “according to a study,” you name the study, the organization that published it and provide a link. 
  • Anticipating and answering reader questions about the subject. 
  • Presenting material in its appropriate “editorial package” by considering the appropriate use of graphical elements such as bullets and art. 
  • Staying concise. That does not necessarily mean keeping material short. Search engines do reward thoughtful and longer pieces. Aim for smaller sentences, tighter and active wording (for example, overusing the phrase “of the”) and phrasing that compel further reading.

Applying such standards for producing unique and high-quality content takes a lot of time and adjustment. So what are you to do?

There are several approaches. You can:

  • Buy generic material about insurance that is pretty affordable, but since it is not original, it is more likely to be pushed down by the search rankings. 
  • Produce content in-house, making sure that you have an editor who will approach the article journalistically. 
  • Hire a freelance writer with a journalism background. Writers with solid reputations, years of experience and who know the subject matter (or know what to ask) will likely cost more. Just think of the time it takes subject matter experts, consultants and executives to produce well-written material. Compare that to the cost of hiring a seasoned writer. Besides receiving quality and unique content, you should also benefit from ideas for re-purposing, new stories, different angles and approaches and creative ways to present material.

Conclusion

Publishing unique and quality content is more important for boosting SEO than technical SEO enhancements. By approaching a subject like a journalist, you will enhance your organization’s brand to build trust and credibility that should attract potential customers.

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Auto Insurance Price Optimization A Reminder to Shop Around

 © Copyright Lewis Clarke and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License. http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1721718

© Copyright Lewis Clarke and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License. http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1721718

Price optimization in automobile insurance has been getting a lot of attention lately, especially since it is controversial.

Some consumer advocates say price optimization can be unfair to auto insurance customers. Insurers, however, believe using all the data possible for pricing premiums is good business.

Determining how insurers can acceptably develop rates – the basis of premiums — ultimately falls on state insurance commissioners. Before they can decide on if or how to regulate price optimization, they need a reliable definition. 

As I cover in my recent Actuarial Review article, Descending Confusion, some state insurance departments have already begun limiting price optimization using definitions that could disqualify decades-long actuarial practices. Most commissioners, however, want to further investigate price optimization first.

The challenge is that there are several definitions of price optimization.

____________

….for consumers to really get the best price for insurance,
they really should shop around on a regular basis.
____________

The goal of my article is to present facts and opinions about price optimization while avoiding political pitfalls. I can assure you it was no easy task.

I do thank the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS), which represents the actuaries who price auto insurance, for giving me the opportunity to tackle this controversial subject. I have had the opportunity to work with countless CAS actuaries in my career and their personal and professional standards should be emulated by every profession.

While this is all fine and good, my mother is going to ask me what I think of price optimization.

Here’s what I’ll tell her. There is nothing wrong with insurers making a profit. It helps ensure that insurance is available to consumers.

And since insurance is such a highly regulated industry, insurers really can’t gouge customers as some would suggest. At the same time, for consumers to really get the best price for insurance, they really should shop around on a regular basis. 

But hey, even Flo would tell you that!

Website Writers, Developers Must Work in Tandem

Image H84.20196Developing websites is far different than even five years ago. Website technology and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), as examples, have changed considerably.

One thing, however, has not changed. Content is still king.

Too often during the website development process, however, business professionals first involve the designer or focus too much on bells, whistles and technical SEO without including the content writer.

This is a grave mistake. Involving the writer early in the process actually helps prevent unnecessary confusion and frustration.

Websites are a form of publishing. In traditional print publishing, the best practice is for writers to create the content first and then the designer develops the layout and chooses graphics that do not compete with text, but enhance the reader’s experience.

This approach also works well with web design because text – and how it is meant to be presented — can affect the site’s look and content placement.

Getting Started

The best way to approach a website is to establish its goals. Any writer or designer worth their salt will ask some of the questions below and offer to help clients answer them if necessary.

Questions should include:

  • What is this site supposed to accomplish?
  • How does the website work within the company’s overall marketing, communications and branding strategy?
  • Who are the readers/potential customers? Reader demographics, pain points and how readers will benefit must be established. Even basic market research can pay future dividends.
  • What is the overall message about the company and its products/services to the customer?
  • Does this message include the value proposition showing what makes the client unique?

The Designer/Writer Relationship

Introduce the writer and designer as soon as possible to encourage a creative partnership. The writer and designer need to have a shared vision so they can literally be “on the same page.”

During the development process, the designer should be concerned about the site map and material organization. As a natural part of the writing process, however, writers develop outlines similar to site maps to present content logically. Experienced writers will naturally consider the “packaging” of text and how to present it in user-friendly ways. Such writers can already envision reader-enhancing elements such as bullet points, sidebars, graphs, links, etc.

_______________

The writer and designer need to have a shared vision
so they can literally be “on the same page.”
_______________

When the site map or web organization is being considered independently from the writer, the text might not fit the site’s design. What can be very frustrating, even to writers, is once the site is laid out, words often read differently once online.

Here’s why: When text is written and saved as a Word document, it is being read for its own sake. But when it is placed within the context of visual content, it might not stand out as well.

I find this phenomenon to be more unique to websites than in print publications. Text on websites is competing with a graphical frame of navigation tools, links and other distractions that can carry a reader’s eyes to a different space. This differs newspaper or magazine articles because print advertising does not distract the reader to a new space.

When changes need to be made, it is less cumbersome and more cost-effective if the writer has full access to all of the content instead of changing text in the vacuum of Word files. That way, the writer can make sure that coded headlines or other graphic elements that include text are correct.

More On Graphics

Traditional publishing practice also discourages design approaches that also should be avoided on websites. Since many website developers are technicians and not necessarily publishing designers, graphic elements could be misused.

For example, pictures can be worth a 1,000 words IF they are appropriate to the reader and the text.

Let’s say a site is trying to reach executives who buy workers’ compensation insurance. Since workers’ compensation only covers injuries, illnesses and deaths relating to work, a picture of a person sweeping a non-descript floor doesn’t resonate with the viewer. If the picture shows occupational elements, such as a person wearing a work uniform and/or background of a work area reinforces the subject matter.

I know this sounds obvious, but if you look at pictures on websites, you will be amazed at how the chosen stock photography does not reinforce the message. What amazes me even more is how much stock photography features still poses when readers like to people in action.

 ­­_______________
Readability is not just a matter of how clearly the text is written…
_______________

Readability is not just a matter of how clearly the text is written, how easily it can be understood or even sentence length. Design plays a larger role and can distract the reader away from even the best content. White space is great, but too much white space between paragraphs can interrupt text flow.

Type size and its typeface are extremely critical or the words can become too “noisy.” Some fonts do not leave enough space between sentences. Using reverse type (white on black and other variations) can be very powerful, but too much is difficult on the eyes.

Also, remember to verify the viewabilty of the most important content. Take a look at your site through several browsers and devices to ensure the most important content is not buried, especially when considering viewing from mobile devices.

Keep in mind that people still print off information to read, so how it looks after being printed is also very important. Continuing to focus on the site’s goals and keeping them “top of mind” is essential. It’s too easy to get into the “weeds” of details, go down a tangential rabbit trail and lose direction.

And finally, choose website designers and writers carefully. Readers and search engine algorithms favor quality. Unique design is more memorable. If you hire based on the lowest price, you are more likely to see common designs or content that looks too similar to your competitors. In the future, I will write a blog on how to hire creative talent.

How will you approach your next website differently? Please share in the comments section below.

Like this blog? Then you’ll also enjoy my recent
Leader’s Edge article on digital media marketing.