Special investigations department finishes FY2018 with impressive results

By Jim Wernecke, Director, BWC Special Investigations Department

It’s getting harder and harder for the criminally minded to rip off BWC and the State Insurance Fund and get away with it.

That was the message I took to BWC’s board of directors Thursday afternoon when I presented the board with the Special Investigations Department’s annual report for FY2018, which closed June 30. The report details another impressive year of our department’s efforts to deter, detect, investigate and prosecute workers’ compensation fraud.

Here are some highlights in what was our 25th year as a department:

  • We closed 1,622 fraud cases, 448 more than in 2017.
  • We secured 101 convictions of claimants, employers and health care providers who defrauded our agency.
  • For every dollar we spent on our efforts, we saved the state fund nearly five ($4.81), or $1.33 more than last year.
  • We reduced our investigation time per case by 23 days on average, our lowest number on this measure since 2005.
  • All told, we saved the state fund $60.1 million in 2018, a 44 percent jump over 2017’s numbers.

We couldn’t have achieved this success without the 121 dedicated staff members who serve our department with great skill, resourcefulness and determination to bring justice to those who cheat our system. We also owe a great deal of credit to advances in technology and a key operational change we made last year to increase our efficiency and productivity.

Drones and Workplace Safety
The drone program we implemented in 2017 for our safety investigators proved itself a worthy investment in 2018. Our safety investigators relied on the tool at 10 workplace safety violation sites last year, including two that would have been especially difficult and dangerous, if not impossible, to properly investigate without it. The most challenging case involved flying the drone into an elevator shaft. Another involved an old factory site where the factory was being torn down. Thanks to our drones, our safety investigators could remain at a safe distance while navigating the drones to survey the sites and take accident scene pictures.

We have three drone pilots certified with the Federal Aviation Administration and three more waiting in the wings, so to speak. And while they find the drones fun and exciting, their enthusiasm is tempered in knowing that each operation is tied to tragedy and unfortunate events. Their drive is to ensure they gather accurate data and conduct unbiased investigations.

Hotline
In November we rolled out a new method for collecting fraud allegations. Until then, outside callers would report allegations to BWC personnel that staffed our customer contact centers. Now the callers reach our investigators directly, which allows our team to ask follow-up questions and obtain more precise information to jumpstart the investigation. It also reduced or eliminated the wait times for callers, which led to fewer dropped calls. The bottom line is the new hotline system led to a more comprehensive and detailed fraud allegation packet that we could send to our field teams.

Looking ahead
As we commence our 26th year in FY 2019, we remain united in our commitment to protecting the state insurance fund and the Ohio workers and employers it serves. We join our colleagues throughout this agency in delivering the people of this state the world-class workers’ compensation system they deserve.

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