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Workers’ comp conference targeting record participation level

Organizers of the 21st Annual Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference — the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission (MWCC) and its non-profit arm, the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Educational Association Inc. (MWCEA) — are billing this year’s conference as the best ever, and they have numbers to back up their claim. Booth space is sold out, and the number of attendees is expected to be 1,000, maybe more, for this year’s gathering, to be held April 29-May 1 at the Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi.

In addition, the MWCC and MWCEA have augmented the program’s offerings and presenters/panelists. All of this is the result of a concerted effort to grow the annual event, efforts that will not stop with this year’s conference.

“We’re really excited about this year’s event,” says MWCC Commissioner Liles B. Williams.

Next level

Twenty years ago, the conference was conceived from a perceived need for more educational opportunities for those directly or indirectly involved in the workers’ compensation industry. (The conference is designed for employers, insurers, third-party administrators, legal professionals, healthcare professionals, rehabilitation providers and others. Continuing education credits are offered.) The event proved successful, and, offered once annually, became an anticipated opportunity to learn and network.

Annual average attendance grew to 700, but organizers saw more potential in the conference. One important piece of the strategy fell in place a few years ago when the MWCEA was established. Its non-profit status allowed it to receive and disburse money, not allowed by the MWCC. The three current MWCC commissioners — Williams, John Junkins and Leon Collins — supported, through the MCEA, the hiring of a Florida-based firm that has experience in promoting a similar but larger event in the Sunshine State. As a result, Williams and Perry Nations, director of workers’ compensation and legislative services at the Associated General Contractors of Mississippi and MWEA board member, say marketing of this year’s conference began earlier and was more effective compared to prior years.

Organizers say attendance commitments are up sharply, and would not be surprised to see more than 1,000 participate in this year’s conference. Seventy booths, all that are available, have been sold and there is a waiting list. And, this year’s slate of sponsors stands at approximately 20.

Organizers are also excited about the quality of this year’s presenters, and have added to the program’s topics, particularly in the area of insurance adjustment and employees’ awareness of workers’ compensation, both its requirements and benefits.

Full agenda

Events will kick off April 29 at 11 a.m. for the annual MWCC Golf Tournament. To be played at the Shell Landing Golf Course, it will begin with lunch followed by a noon tee-off. A welcome reception will be offered poolside at the Beau Rivage beginning at 6 p.m.

The conference begins in earnest April 30. The opening session will feature remarks from Williams, who will also present door prizes, and David Nour of The Nour Group, who will present “Relationships Economics,” the art and science of relationships.

Concurrent workshops will be offered beginning at 11:15 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. covering topics from “Changes in Pain Management in the 2007 Fee Schedule” to “The Emerging 21st Century Workforce.”

Debra Potterfield, RN, CRRN, CCM, MSCC, executive vice president of Self-Insured Solutions of Jackson, will present “Medicare Conditional Payments,” a hot topic that she says is only just heating up. In a nutshell, Potterfield says legislation has been in place since 1981 intended to protect Medicare funding by stipulating what it will cover and how. That legislation, Potterfield says, has been largely ignored and not enforced.

Potterfield adds that a study found that over just one three-year period, Medicare paid $65 billion in set asides that were not allowed by statute.

But, those days are over, she says. The rules are now being enforced, and the recent CHIP legislation included a tag-on that specified a $1,000 per day penalty for violators. That goes into effect in 2009.

Another presenter is Howard Katz, M.D., who will discuss “New Perspectives Regarding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the Workplace.” Katz says he has compiled information from nearly 100 articles on carpal tunnel, and will offer preventative tips as well as factors that lead to the syndrome. One of those factors, he says, is temperature.

“Cold temperatures can lead to carpal tunnel, which is important for those in the poultry industry,” says Katz, a veteran conference presenter. “Working in cold temperatures like in a chicken plant inhibits circulation and can be a factor.”

Concurrent workshops will be offered May 1, and will wrap up with the closing session, featuring Charles Lowery, Ph.D., who will present “A Balanced Life is Great Business.”

Bigger plans

Williams points out that this year’s expanded conference is needed today more than ever as the workers’ comp environment in Mississippi continues to evolve. The news in the state’s workers’ comp industry is good, Williams says, a far cry from the late 1980s and early 1990s when insurers were leaving the state and coverage was hard to find and expensive.

This led to the flourishing of self-insured workers’ comp group in Mississippi, which led to other positives. Williams shows how lost-time accident claims fell as self-insureds grew. And, the success of the state’s self-insureds brought insurers back to the Magnolia State, offering even more choices and affordability.

Williams was quick to add, however, that this has put pressure back on self-insureds. They have more competition, and information offered at this year’s conference should help the state’s self-insureds remain successful.

As the industry continues to change, organizers are seeing even wider horizons for the conference. Williams says they do not envision growing to a regional conference, but he and other organizers see much more potential in the conference, including the addition of another conference every year.

For more information on the conference, contact Amanda Hammond or Joel Peeler at (601) 987-4251 or ahammond@mwcc.state.ms.us or jpeeler@mwcc.state.ms.us, or visit www.mwcea.org.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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