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Updated: January 23, 2023 On the record

On the Record: Workers comp insurer MEMIC off to strong start in 2023

MEMIC's president and CEO is Michael Bourque. File Photo / Kevin Brusie Photography Michael Bourque is president and CEO of the MEMIC Group, a Portland-based workers’ compensation insurance company.

As president and CEO of the Portland-based MEMIC Group, Michael Bourque leads a workers’ compensation insurance company with 508 employees, including 315 in Maine. MEMIC, which insures more than 22,000 employers and their estimated 300,000 employees, wrote $401 million in premiums in 2022 and has more than $1.6 billion in assets. It has operations in 22 states.

Mainebiz: January is your busy time for policy renewals. How’s this year starting off?

Michael Bourque: We underwrite close to 20% of our business for the year in January since so many employers renew their insurance so this is a very important time. We’re off to a strong start for our business both in Maine and outside of Maine. We’ll write over $5 million new business for the month, which is good.

Mainebiz: What are your plans to insure more small businesses outside of Maine?

Bourque: In Maine, we insure about two-thirds of the commercial market premium and that includes lots of larger companies but it particularly includes most of the small businesses in Maine. That’s a point of pride for us because Maine was built by small businesses and entrepreneurs. As we have grown outside of Maine, it has tended to be with larger employers. In the last few years, we have worked to make our products appeal to more small businesses outside of the state. We have a product called MEMIC Express which is aimed at small businesses. We try to make it easy for those businesses and their agents to do business with us. Last year, that segment grew by over 50% and we see lots more opportunity there again in 2023.

Mainebiz: What can you share about MEMIC’s plans for paying injured workers more promptly?

Bourque: One of the most important things we do is get wage replacement benefits into the hands of injured workers on a timely basis. It’s what our claim team is geared to make happen. Within the next few months, we’ll be implementing a new system that will allow us to pay even faster. In addition to check and EFTs [electronic funds transfers], which have been available for many years, we’ll expand to other payment systems like Venmo. That means we don’t have to worry so much about the challenge of the mail system and will be able to get money directly to a workers’ account — if they agree to give us that access — within 30 minutes of our approval of a payment.

Mainebiz: In terms of workplace safety, how does Maine compare to other states?

Bourque: Maine ranks somewhere in the middle of pack, which is a real improvement. Before MEMIC, Maine had the highest injury rate in the country. We’re still higher than any of us would want but the truth is, we do have some higher risk jobs than some states and we have an aging workforce. Beyond that, winter weather is something that many other states don’t have to deal with. Falls from ice and snow are a significant issue. That’s why you see us calling on employers to take care of walkways and parking lots. And we ask workers to wear smart footwear and to be careful all winter long.

Mainebiz: In Maine, how are ‘gig’ workers treated for purposes of workplace injury and compensation?

Bourque: Like most states, gig workers such as Uber drivers and the like are treated as independent contractors and therefore do not fall under the workers’ compensation mandate. There is dispute about whether that should be the case or not and it has been litigated in several states. It’s an emerging area in workers’ comp law.

Mainebiz: You’ve talked about a desire to get out and meet more clients and others in person this year. Why is that important to you?

Bourque: Connection is important to me personally and I think it’s important to us all. Technology is wonderful but it can’t replace a warm connection with people. The pandemic has caused us to swing too far into our computer screens. I like to think that empathy is among my stronger leadership skills, and that is best felt and delivered in-person. I just heard an NPR report about a longitudinal study that looked at happiness in life. The answer to happiness was all about the relationships you develop in life. I think the most successful businesses are still built on those kinds of relationships.

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