Categorized | Insurance

The Obesity Disease and Workers Compensation Costs

Obesity and workers compensation costs. What does one have to do with the other? More than you might think according to a report issued last week by the California Workers Compensation Institute.

As I’m sure you’ve heard too many times already, Americans are fat. More than a third (35.9%) of us are obese. The American Medical Association has been concerned about this problem for some time. Two months ago it took a drastic step and designated obesity a disease. AMA members believe that the new classification will spur doctors to take obesity seriously and start treating it. Physicians will in turn pressure insurance companies to pay for more treatments. As more people get treatment, obesity rates should go down.

Frosted Doughnuts

What does all this have to do with workers compensation costs? The CWCI examined 1.2 million workers compensation claims from accident years 2005 through 2010. It compared claims filed by obese workers with those filed by workers who were not obese. Until now, obesity has been considered a co-morbidity (coexisting disease). Yet, it has been ignored in workers compensation cases, since doctors don’t document conditions they don’t intend to treat. This means that when an obese worker suffers an on-the-job injury, only the injury has been treated.

Even though obesity hasn’t been treated, it has clearly impacted the cost of workers compensation claims in California. The CWCI’s report shows that injured obese workers lost significantly more work days, and were much more likely to sustain a long-term disability than their slimmer counterparts. Obese workers also collected significantly (81%) higher benefit payments and were more likely to hire an attorney than injured workers who were not obese.

The report applies only to claims filed in California. It’s possible that obesity has less impact on claims filed in other states. Yet, this isn’t likely considering that the obesity rate in California is significantly lower (23.8%) than the national average. Obesity may well have a greater effect on workers compensation claims costs in other states.

Now that obesity is officially a disease, what will happen to the cost of workers compensation claims? The CWCI expects the cost of claims to rise. For one thing, some doctors may feel obligated to treat obesity in conjunction with the injury. Doctors are especially likely to provide treatment when they expect to be compensated for it. Secondly, now that obesity is a disease, it will be a co-morbidity in a greater number of claims. Moreover, some claimants may seek benefits for obesity as a consequence of a work-related injury. For example, a worker might claim that he became obese because he was immobilized by a broken leg he sustained on the job.

What do you think of the AMA’s decision to classify obesity as a disease? Should your workers compensation premiums be used to pay for obesity treatment? Would it be more appropriate for health insurance to pay for the treatment rather than workers compensation insurance?

Image Courtesy of [Victor Habbick] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Source: About.com
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