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Care costs have little effect on worker recovery time: WCRI

Posted On: May. 24, 2019 1:25 PM CST

workers comp costs

The cost of medical care does not have an effect on a worker’s recovery or likelihood of returning to work, according to a study released Thursday by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

For the study, “Workers’ Compensation Medical Prices and Outcomes of Injured Workers,” researchers from Cambridge, Massachusetts-based WCRI surveyed 6,600 injured workers in 14 states between 2010 and 2013 and evaluated the administrative claims records for more than 1.5 million workers who were away from work for more than a week in 30 states. The researchers found that though workers compensation prices correlated with an injured worker’s access to care, reimbursement rates were not related to their recovery or ability to rejoin the workforce.

In areas of the country where group health is reimbursed at higher rates than workers compensation, the researchers reported that there was a small increase in the length of an injured worker’s temporary disability and that the workers had “somewhat faster” access to physicians in areas where workers comp prices are higher than group health. 

However, in areas with lower comp reimbursement, an employee with “big problems” is 31% less likely to get their desired primary care physician, the researchers reported, but there was no difference in the ability of the workers to receive the services that they or their providers wanted.

In states with higher workers comp payouts, workers had a 7% decrease in the amount of time between the injury and the first non-emergency office visit, according to the study.

Three years post-injury, the study revealed no difference between the likelihood of the worker returning to work based on reimbursement rates, and found that in states with lower reimbursement, the average duration of temporary disability increased slightly from an average of 17 weeks in higher comp-paying states to 18 weeks in states where comp costs are lower than group health.