On February 28, 2020, Mack Babcock presented at the Workers’ Compensation Educational Association (WCEA) in Colorado as a board member of the Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG). His presentation focused on the “Current Trends in Workers’ Compensation.” His topics included the national trends in workers’ compensation, changes to workers’ compensation based on job classifications and medical benefit changes.
National workers’ compensation trends
According to the 2015 U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) report, “Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job,” workers’ compensation only covers 21 percent of an injured worker’s costs. A worker hurt on the job will typically be responsible for paying for nearly half of their injury out-of-pocket. The federal and state/local governments cover 11 percent and 5 percent respectively, with the remaining 13 percent coming from private health insurance.
In recent years, the rates of workers’ compensation payouts have decreased and this trend continues in 2020. For example, the following states are all reporting legislations that reduced the compensation for injured workers in 2020:
- New Hampshire
Changes based on job classifications
Increases in the rate of workers being independent contractors and/or self-employed is also changing the nature of workers’ compensation. For example, California is now changing how companies can treat their workers, specifically in terms of how they are able to classify which workers are labeled independent contractors (IC).
This legislation, known as AB 5, went into effect on January 1, 2020 and requires workers to sign forms designating IC status. In order to meet the criteria for IC delegation, workers must pass the “ABC test.”
A—a worker’s job is free from both (1) control and (2) the direction of the person that hired them in regards to their work performance.
B—The work that a person performs is not what the hiring entity typically does.
C—The worker typically does the job they’re hired for, which is separate from the work for the company.
Medical benefits changes
Workers’ compensation benefits are also changing in regards to the nationwide opioid crisis.
According to the 2018 Workers’ Compensation Drug Trend Report, opioids account for the most expensive classification of drugs dispensed through workers’ compensation claims. In 2017, the most frequently used drugs associated with workers’ comp claims included: opioids, anticonvulsants, dermatologicals, NSAIDs, muscle relaxants and antidepressants.
By 2018, all of the categories saw decreases in price per person with the exception of dermatologicals, which increased. Workers’ compensation spending on opioids decreased by 15 percent.
Even though the prices associated with opioid prescriptions per person have decreased, opioid use still remains a serious problem within the public. Suggestions to help combat the opioid crisis include:
- Allowing for medical marijuana use
- Putting a limit on a person’s initial opioid prescription
- Adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines for opioid prescribing
- Strengthening the requirements for prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP)
- Utilizing a physician registry
- Requiring mediation for opioid cases
- Covering abuse-deterrent opioid analgesic products
Mack Babcock further stressed WILG’s position on injured workers and the use of opioids, which should include the following guidelines:
- Emphasizing quality care over sticking to a reduction in various prescriptions
- Ensuring that injured workers are given adequate alternative medication options that are of equal or greater effectiveness
- Assisting in the cessation, reduction or tapering off of opioids through evaluation and/or treatment
- Providing patients and physicians the ability to move quickly through the process and a way to apply for an exception if the patient’s needs demand it
- Protecting the physician-patient relationship
In many ways, the nature of workers’ compensation law is fluid—they are constantly evolving. For this reason, if you or a loved one are injured on the job, it’s essential that you don’t wade the waters alone. You should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to help ensure that you receive the compensation that you deserve.