Injured workers who gain weight due to inactivity or as a side effect of medication will probably receive higher workers comp benefits, thanks to the American Medical Association’s recent reclassification of obesity as a disease. That’s the conclusion of a recent six-year study of claims by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute.
According to the report, although this reclassification doesn’t have legal standing, the AMA’s positions often have a strong influence on lawmakers, regulators, and health care providers. Immediately after the decision, senators and congressmen introduced bipartisan bills requiring Medicare to cover more obesity treatment costs, including prescription drugs and intensive behavioral weight-loss counseling, which will give health care providers a financial incentive to use these remedies.
Judging from the results of the California study, this means that businesses can expect to pay more for workers comp. The report found that the costs of comp claims that listed obesity as a “comorbidity,” or additional cause, were far greater than for claims without them. Medical benefits for comorbidity cases cost 81% more than for other cases, while indemnity payments averaged nearly 65% higher. More two in three claimants with obesity comorbidity received permanent disability, nearly five times the rate for the non-obese. Finally, the use of narcotic painkillers was significantly higher among overweight claimants.
Obesity might even become a primary comp diagnosis for jobs such as long-haul trucking or office work that require employees to remain seated for extended periods.
The bottom line: look for the management and financial changes stemming from the reclassification of obesity as a medical condition to create new challenges and incentives for health care professionals, businesses, and workers compensation insurance companies.
We’ll stay on top of these changes to help make sure that your company has the coverage you need at a competitive rate.