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Health care reform's impact on comp patients still playing out

Health care reform's impact on comp patients still playing out

Some workers compensation professionals worry the health care reform law will delay return to work by making it difficult for injured workers to obtain timely medical care.

Since 2010, more than 16 million uninsured people have gained health coverage, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

But the extent to which the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will affect workers comp systems remains unclear, as many major provisions have been in effect for only two years, sources said.

One of the industry's biggest concerns is that, if more people go to the doctor, there won't be enough physicians to treat injured workers in a timely manner, said Paul Braun, managing director of casualty claims at Aon Global Risk Consulting in Los Angeles.

Access to care was explored in a study released Monday by the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc., which found that an injured worker's behavior is a bigger driver of time to treatment than provider availability. The Boca Raton, Florida-based workers comp ratings and research organization noted that the health care system has sufficient capacity.

Meanwhile, other factors that influence time to treatment for injured workers include demographics and the nature of an injury — whether it's a trauma or nontrauma case, according to the study, “Time from Injury to Treatment in Workers Compensation: Setting a Baseline to Monitor the Affordable Care Act.”

“Given all the influences that interact and affect the time to treatment, it will be difficult — if even possible — to isolate the impact of the ACA,” NCCI said, adding that educating injured workers about accessing the workers comp system is increasingly important in the changing health care environment.

Mr. Braun said workers comp professionals could be dealing with a different issue entirely if people with high deductible health plans can no longer afford treatment.

“It used to be that individuals who didn't have any insurance would file a comp claim,” Mr. Braun said. “The theory was we would have less of those claims, but I'm not so sure because people can't afford (care) if they have a high deductible.”

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