Roberto Ceniceros, writing for Business Insurance, notes that National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has released preliminary findings on an upcoming report on obesity which shows that workers’ comp medical claims open for one year cost three times as much when the injured employee is obese, and claims that are open for five years are five times more costly when involving an obese claimant. For smaller claims, the study will show that the cost differential can be even greater.
Employers already know that obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other common health conditions are having an enormous impact on the cost of health care and group health insurance, but may be unaware of the impact that these conditions can have on the duration and cost of recovery after workplace injuries. While the frequency of worker injuries has been dropping consistently over the last decade, the severity of the injuries that has been increasing when measured in terms of the duration and cost of those injuries. The presence of co-morbid conditions such as obesity may is likely a factor in the increased severity. There have been numerous studies linking obesity to high medical costs and longer duration of lost time. One 2007 study documenting the cost link between obesity and workers comp by researchers at Duke University found that obese workers filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims, had seven times higher medical costs from those claims and lost 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness than non-obese workers.
Workers’ comp programs and group health programs are often managed in two very different workplace environments: occupational safety, prevention, and other issues related to workers comp are most often managed by risk managers and safety staff. General employee health issues are usually tucked under an organization’s benefits and human resources department as part of group health – or under a wellness program, if one exists. But increasingly, data shows that the two are often inextricably linked and it makes good sense to address health issues with a more holistic approach. For more on the matter of wellness programs and the effects on workers comp, the 2008 NCCI Issues Report includes an article by Bill Thorness called Wellness Comp (PDF), in which he addresses the issue of whether there is a place for health promotion programs in workers’ comp.


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