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How inequality worsens workers’ comp recovery

How inequality worsens workers’ comp recovery | Insurance Business America

“Struggling to pay bills doesn’t help with rehabilitation”

Workers Comp

Nicole Panteloucos

In the bustling world of workers’ compensation, which is supposed to put recover on a straightforward path, income inequality casts a long shadow.

As the gap between the rich and the rest widens, the ability of injured workers to recover fully is increasingly determined not just by the severity of their injuries, but by their bank accounts.

From delayed treatments to diminished access to care, socioeconomics is shaping recovery journeys in ways that are often overlooked by broader policy discussions.

Navigating complex conditions

Examining the workers’ compensation landscape closely reveals a trend towards fewer claims overall, but those that do occur are of higher severity.

This shift indicates that while workplaces may be becoming more effective at preventing minor injuries, the incidents that do happen tend to result in more serious or complex conditions.

Jennifer Cogbill (pictured), senior vice president, GBCARE, managed care advisor group at Gallagher Bassett, noted that this change poses challenges for workers’ compensation systems, which now need to adapt to manage more severe cases, ensuring that injured workers receive the appropriate care and support they need for recovery.

Financial barriers to recovery

What’s driving the trend toward more severe injuries? Signs point to economic stress.

“A lot of the claims we see are in factory-like environments, such as construction, transportation and retail,” shared Cogbill.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a five-year high in fatal injuries among construction laborers in 2020, while data from UC Berkeley found that 39% of families of construction workers are enrolled in one or more safety net program.

These findings indicate that lower-wage workers are disproportionately impacted by workplace injuries.

Cogbill pointed out: “There’s a lot of stress in society. The wealthier are going up and the people who are living paycheck to paycheck are going down.”

As working multiple jobs can increase injury risk, when accidents do occur, Cogbill underscored how financial pressures further disadvantage low income employees. “Struggling to pay bills doesn’t help with rehabilitation,” she added.

Education and healthcare access

The link between occupation, income, and access to healthcare is also a critical factor.

Lower-income workers in the gig economy, where jobs are often freelance or temporary, may lack stable access to health insurance. Consequently, these workers may face difficulties in receiving timely medical attention and support to file claims for compensation.

“There is a significant disparity between college-educated individuals and those with less education, meaning this demographic may be less proactive in managing their health concerns,” noted Cogbill.

While there is still more work needed at the federal level to enhance democratic access to employee healthcare, Cogbill emphasized the importance of effectively addressing the claims that are received.

“Every claim is an opportunity to make employees feel connected to their organization. It’s a very critical role for us,” she said.

“At the end of the day, it’s about finding the care that people need. What do we need to give them to get better, so they don’t need to seek out an attorney or go elsewhere to get the advocacy they deserve?”

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