Workers’ Comp Insurance Rates Are Dropping: What Workers Need to Know
Tim Hamill is an attorney focusing on workers’ compensation with the law firm Bothwell & Hamill in Washington State. He’s helped injured workers win the benefits they deserve for more than 10 years. Before that, he represented the Washington Department of Labor & Industries in workers’ comp cases.
Employers are pushing to reduce the costs that come with workers getting hurt on the job. This often takes the form of workplace safety programs. And it seems to be paying off in one important statistic: a decline in workers’ compensation insurance rates.
It’s not often you hear good news about insurance rates.
But as an attorney practicing workers’ comp law, I also see the negative side of employers trying to save money on workplace injuries — when they hinder workers’ claims.
In this post, I’ll examine the trends in workers’ comp insurance rates, and what you need to know if you’re hurt on the job.
Why Your Workers’ Comp Insurance Rate Might Be Lower
Insurance industry experts give credit to workplace safety campaigns for pushing down rates across the country. In fall 2017, Business Insurance magazine said most states are seeing rate decreases, many of them in the double digits.
The article quoted an executive with the National Council on Compensation Insurance: “Companies like to make money and one way you save money is fewer workers’ comp claims. Outside of the human perspective (of not getting injured), you save money by making the workplace safer.”
The state where I practice law, Washington, is among those seeing lower costs for workers’ comp.
Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) said that the average cost to employers and workers for worker’s comp insurance was expected to drop by 2.5% in 2018.
In announcing the rate decrease, L&I Director Joel Sacks said, “We’ve made several improvements that are helping injured workers heal, return to work sooner and avoid long-term disability.”
Part of it, said L&I, was in fact an increase in the focus on workplace safety by both employers and employees.
Summing up the situation, the general counsel for the American Insurance Association said in the Business Insurance article, “Thanks to a number of effective reforms, especially those that help control medical costs, the worker’s compensation industry is quite healthy.”
A healthy worker’s compensation system is a good thing, but it’s imperative that there’s always a balance between the desire to reduce costs for employers and insurance companies, and injured workers getting treated fairly.
What You Should Watch Out for With Workers’ Comp
You worked hard. Then you suffered a work-related injury or illness. Now you can’t work.
You deserve coverage for the medical treatment you need to recover.
You deserve payment for the wages you’re losing. Just because you have to stop working, your bills don’t stop coming.
Employers, however, sometimes worry more about their insurance rates rising because of too many claims. Insurers sometimes focus on profits ahead of your recovery.
I’ve seen companies try to do the right thing for employees hurt on the job.
But it doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes a business, individual manager or insurance claims manager fails to give an employee a fair shake.
Here are some common problems you can encounter:
1) Doctors who don’t put you first. You should be able to see your own doctor for treatment after a workplace injury. But your employer might steer you to a doctor chosen by the company. The doctor could clear you to return to work before you’re ready, or show more concern for costs than care.
2) Employers who hold up claims. The first step in opening your workers’ comp claim is usually your employer filing a report of your injury. If they’re worried they’ll take a hit on their insurance rates, they might drag their feet. Then you’ll need to file a timely report yourself. Claims for industrial injuries must be filed within one year of the incident. Occupational disease claims must be filed within two years. You could also encounter an employer who makes your return to work difficult, for example by challenging the validity of your claim or by asking too much of you when you’ve been assigned to “light duty” work because of your health.
3) Insurers hindering claims. After your claim is filed, sometimes the insurer denies your benefits. Or you receive benefits, and they cut them off prematurely. Or they fail to pay the full amount you deserve, miscalculating what you should receive in lost wages.
Why You Might Need a Workers’ Comp Lawyer
Worker’s comp was designed to provide quick assistance to workers hurt on the job while protecting employers from lawsuits. In exchange for getting workers’ comp, injured workers generally cannot sue their employers.
But you still might need a lawyer to help you navigate the complex workers’ comp system, especially when you need to appeal a denial. Workers’ comp has a whole separate legal system with its own rules, different in every state.
And work-related injuries go beyond the most obvious cases like a back strain, knee injury, fall or burn.
They also include mental health conditions, like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from a workplace injury, exposure to hazardous chemicals, hearing loss from working in a loud environment and injuries from repetitive motion.
A workers’ comp-qualifying injury or illness can result from a single, sudden incident or develop from working conditions over a long time.
To get the maximum benefits available, you’ll need a lawyer who knows how to present all your medical evidence.
Also, if your injury was the result of actions or defective products from someone other than your employer, you might have a case against that third party that only a lawyer can help you pursue.
And if your work-related injury or illness will put you out of work for a lengthy period, you might qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. A lawyer can help you with that.
It’s great news that workers’ comp costs are going down, especially if that means fewer workers are getting hurt.
But if a cost-conscious employer is hostile to your workers’ comp claim, a lawyer can make sure they follow the rules and take care of your needs.