Workers' compensation

Study suggests link between state workers’ comp policies, disability time

back pain

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Hopkinton, MA – Differences among state workers’ compensation policies may play a role in the length of time workers are out on disability for low back pain, according to a new study from the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety.

Researchers analyzed 59,360 low-back pain claims filed in 49 states between 2002 and 2008. They found that state workers’ comp policies regarding wage replacement and medical benefits explained about 5 percent of the total variation between states in medical costs and disability time.

Specifically, injured workers in states that require a longer period of disability before awarding benefits remained on disability longer. Additionally, states allowing injured workers to choose their own provider for treatment (as opposed to the employer’s choice) experienced higher costs and longer worker disability times.

However, workers in states that limited the ability to change medical providers were out on disability longer, while states allowing a one-time change in providers experienced lower medical costs and shorter worker disability times.

The researchers suggested that states might be able to improve outcomes if they provide benefits to injured workers sooner, refer them to providers familiar with occupational health issues and offer dissatisfied injured workers with an alternative provider.

The study was published in the December issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.