One of the most frustrating events that can happen to any employee is being injured on the job. We rely on the income to support our family and we work hard to show up for our employer. To be injured means losing income and then having to work our way through a difficult workers’ compensation system to get ourselves back on the job.
And that has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny. How does the workers’ compensation system perform for the people on both sides of the issue: those injured and their employers?
The Workers Compensation Research Institute conducted surveys in four states—Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, and Georgia—to find out how well the system works. Previous interviews done in 11 other states were also included in the study. Questions focused on the physical recovery of the injured workers, how long it took to return to work and their earnings after the injury. There were also questions about their access to medical care and how satisfied they were with that care. The results of the study were released in January 2020.
The study compared different compensation systems among a number of states “in order to identify and prioritize opportunities to improve system performance,” according to Ramona Tanabe, the Institute’s executive VP and counsel. Each state is responsible for its own Workers’ Compensation program, so this kind of comparison can provide valuable data to address problems as states share information.
One noteworthy result is an average of 17% of injured workers are out of work for over a year, while 14% reported not returning to work for at least one month. Although that number is a minority of workers, it is devastating for that group. Also, the levels of satisfaction with the medical care received vary by state, with Connecticut workers expressing the highest approval of their care at 81%. However, in the same state, 11% of those under medical care were “very dissatisfied.” Receiving services at all was sometimes a problem, with 19% of the affected workers in Georgia reporting problems getting the care they or their provider wanted.
A program designed to alleviate these problems was tried in Washington State in the late ‘90s and it offers some insight into the same issues. The state sponsored a managed care pilot (MCP) to find out if a managed care program would lead to a better result on medical and disability costs and satisfaction levels of both injured workers and employers.
One of the most significant results was the increased satisfaction with the MCP on the part of employers in comparison to the more traditional fee-for-service system. They were more satisfied with the communication from the health care provider about the employees’ possible date of return to work and work modifications needed. It was determined that this communication model could lead to better care after the injury and a more satisfactory return to work for those who had been injured.
Legal help may be needed by workers who find themselves caught in a workers’ comp system that isn’t providing promised help. Studies and programs like these highlight some of the major problems faced by those anxious to get back on the job. No one wants to be out of work longer than necessary after an injury.
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