Wellness Programs Proven to Reduce Workers Comp Costs

The majority of quarter-million dollar and half-million dollar workers compensation claims have a secondary medical issue that complicates recovery and extends the length of time the employee is disabled. Personal medical problems such as obesity, smoking, poor physical condition and diabetes often complicate severe injuries, especially those involving surgical repair, making recovery more difficult, longer and expensive.
A 300-plus-pound employee who must lose 50 pounds before surgical repair of a herniated disc can easily add six months of temporary total disability benefits and six months of doctor visit to overall claim costs. In most jurisdictions, state workers compensation laws take the employee the way you hired them; often referred to as, “You touch it, you bought it.” That the employee has a pre-existing medical issue does not excuse the employer from having to pay all medical care for injury and indemnity benefits until the employee can return to work (or until indemnity benefits reaches the state maximum time limit for draw.)(WCxKit)
Obese employees with medical problems are not the only ones who increase workers compensation claim cost. A 6-foot-tall, 140-pound man smoking a pack of cigarettes each day will find a fractured ankle (or any other bone) takes much longer to heal in a smoker than in a non-smoker. Cervical and lumbar fusions often fail in the heavy smoker as the two bones do not grow together. A failed fusion in a person who smokes can add from months to a year to the life of the workers compensation claim, and increase the employee’s permanent impairment rating.
Most employers totally separate their health insurance program from their workers compensation insurance program with the human resources/benefits department handling the health insurance program and the risk management department dealing with the workers comp insurance program. If your health insurance and workers comp programs are handled separately, we recommend the two departments work together to institute a wellness program, or to improve the existing wellness program, for the simple reason that healthier employees have fewer insurance and workers compensation claims.
If you are thinking, “Okay, I understand that unhealthy employees take longer to recover from their work comp injuries, but how does a wellness program create fewer workers comp claims?” the answer is employees who are not in good physical condition are much more prone to strains and sprains than employees who are physically fit. For example, picking up and moving a 50-pound object does not create a problem for the physically fit employee who has muscles that are properly toned. The same 50-pound object creates a herniated disc in the employee who does not have developed back muscles to support the spine.
A study completed by the John Hopkins University Medical Center of employees at eight aluminum plants found that 85 percent of those injured were overweight or obese. There is also the often-cited Duke University study that documented obese employees have twice the number of injury claims per 100 employees as non-obese employees, lose 13 times as many work days, with indemnity cost being 11 times higher, and medical cost being seven times higher.
(For more detail look http://www.dukehealth.org/health_library/news/10044.The savings in this one area of wellness will greatly exceed the cost of the wellness program.)
One study showed that for every $1 spent on wellness programs, there was an overall reduction in medical care cost of $3 to $4. That is a return on investment that can not be ignored. By eliminating employee’s unhealthy habits, both parties benefit. Not only does the employer benefit by lower insurance cost, but the employer also benefits from higher productivity, as the employee is on the job working, not at home recovering from an illness or an injury.
By having an integrated, comprehensive wellness program you are taking a holistic approach to the employee's health and the impact it has on the employer. With the ever-rising cost of medical care, whether for health insurance claims or workers compensation claims, the need for a strong wellness program in your company will continue to grow.(WCxKit)
We recommend you do your employees and your company a big favor by starting or by improving your wellness program. There are a tremendous amount of resources on the Internet on wellness programs. We are also here to assist you in any way we can, so please contact us in regard to your questions about wellness programs.

Author Rebecca Shafer
, JD, President of Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing, publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. See www.LowerWC.com for more information. Contact: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.
Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers comp issues.
©2011 Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law. If you would like permission to reprint this material, contact Info@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.

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