Firm-Wide blog

Improved Worker’s Comp Costs Will Not Last Forever

By Burg Simpson
November 2, 2017
5 min read

Overall, workers’ compensation costs have been falling nationwide for more than 20 years now. In fact, the National Council on Compensation insurance has pushed for an average premium cut of nearly 13 percent for next year.

Closer to home, Pinnacol Assurance, Colorado’s largest workers’ comp carrier, signed off on an average premium cut of 3.2 percent for 2017. This followed Colorado’s Division of Insurance earlier 2.4 percent rate cut recommendation. For most of the state’s employers, all of this news can translate into lower worker’s comp premiums.

Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar credited both employers and employees with the falling premiums.

“Employers in Colorado continue to do a good job of preventing workplace incidents in the first place, which helps everyone in keeping workers’ compensation costs down,” Salazar said in a statement that announced the proposed cut.

So, with health care costs constantly climbing, what’s behind all this good news for Colorado’s employers? The employers are told that fewer workers’ comp claims are being filed. The ones that do get filed are less severe, with less time off from work and smaller medical bills. In reality, the injured workers are paying the price in more denied claims, a much higher rate of denied medical bills and procedures, and cost-cutting by the employer’s choice of a clinic to avoid sending workers to specialized care early in the claim.

If an accident at work has left you injured, you need to get medical attention, report the incident, and get in touch with a workers compensation attorney as quickly as possible.

Things Could Get Worse

But analysts don’t expect the sunny skies to last. Conning & Co., an investment management firm, sees some clouds moving in. In a report released earlier this year, the Hartford, Connecticut, company pointed to a few warning signs:

  • Accidents are on the rise: A robust economy, with a consistently low unemployment rate, has seen a flood of younger employees pouring into the workplace. Older workers are delaying retirement and sticking around longer. This combination of less-experienced and older workers has translated into an uptick in accidents at work.
  • Accidents are getting worse: Workplace fatalities are creeping up, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, particularly in higher-risk occupations such as construction and manufacturing. Of course, it does not help that health care costs continue to outpace inflation.
  • Docs shift costs. Since the push toward accountable care organizations under the Affordable Care Act, medical providers have been moving patients in group plans over into the workers’ comp system, where reimbursements are typically higher.
  • Employers are improperly labeling employees as independent contractors to avoid paying workers’ compensation premiums and other benefits. When an accident occurs the insurance carrier then has to pick up the claim for that employee and the employer is charged back through underwriting.

Another study, conducted by the Workers Compensation Research Institute earlier this year, reveals that employees who collect worker’s compensation often struggle to return to their pre-injury income level. The study found that within a decade after an injury, “the earnings and income benefits an average worker received were projected to be 88 percent of what a worker would have earned if not injured.” Worse still, only 44 percent of employees went on temporary disability for more than a month were able to return to work and stayed continuously employed.

Getting Employees Back to Work

Extensive research has shown that the quicker an employee receives treatment after an injury, the better their chances at a full recovery and return to regular work, which is all any employee really wants. If they are not getting the care that they would get if they went to a doctor on their own then they are unable to accomplish this goal quickly. The employer and the employee pay the price for the clinic’s failure to diagnose and make referrals out to specialists right away as a cost-saving measure.

But it is equally important that employers and employees alike communicate openly throughout the recovery and reintegration processes. Especially if an employee starts to feel rushed or pressured into returning to work before they have been cleared by their doctor. A premature return to work can result in an additional injury and even more time away from the job. Employers – and their insurance carriers – are more concerned about the bottom line than anything else. The sooner they get an injured employee back on the job, the more money they save. For this reason, many insurance carriers have a “return to work “department that pushes employers to provide light duty even if the employer really does not have much the restricted employee can do.

Do not let anyone pressure you into rushing back to work. Do not work outside of the restrictions given to you by the doctor even if the employer is demanding that you do more.  Do not try to “tough it out.” But, above else, do not try to negotiate your worker’s compensation case on your own. Contact a Colorado workers’ comp attorney at Burg Simpson today by filling out our Free Case Evaluation so that your benefits and your health are defended properly.

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