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Can Obesity Affect Workers’ Compensation Costs and Claims?

Can Obesity Affect Workers’ Compensation Costs and Claims?Obesity is effectively an epidemic in the United States. The amount of adult Americans considered obese was cited at around 39.8% in 2015 and 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which translates to about 93.3 million U.S. adults. According to projections done by the National Health Forum, that number is expected to rise to nearly 50% by the year 2030. The high obesity rate negatively impacts medical costs in the country, with the annual estimated medical costs for someone suffering from obesity totaling an average of $1,429 higher than the costs for someone of normal weight.

In the same arena, obesity can negatively impact businesses as well. Obese workers can contribute to a less productive workforce due, in part, to obesity-related health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure that can cause workers to have more missed work days than average. Obese workers also generally tend to experience more frequent injuries and more expensive and lengthy workers’ compensation claims.

A study done by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2016 found that obese and overweight workers were more likely to incur high costs related to workers’ compensation claims for major injuries. Researchers analyzed data from approximately 2,300 injured workers in Louisiana, and highlighted the different workers’ compensation costs and outcomes for obese, overweight and average-weight workers. Other studies done in recent years seem to share similar findings. Below are some of the ways in which obesity can affect workers’ compensation costs and claims.

Frequency of Injury

Researchers from a 2007 study called “Obesity Increases Workers’ Compensation Costs” stated that, on average, obese workers were injured much more frequently, filing twice as many workers compensation claims than their normal-weight range colleagues.

Higher Incidences of Concurrent Conditions

Obesity increases the risk of workers having additional health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, that can further complicate or hinder the healing process and delay their return to work.

Exacerbation of Injuries

Obese workers often experience increased severity in their injuries, often simply because their extra body mass can generate more force during an accident such as a slip and fall.

Greater Risk of Long Term Disability

A 2010 study done by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) found that obese workers were more likely to become permanently disabled.

Extended Absences

For obese workers than do eventually return to work, the NCCI study also noted that obese claimants missed, on average, 13 times more days of work than claimants within the normal BMI range.

Additional Risks and Complications

There are a variety of risks that obese individuals face that can affect the workers’ comp system. For example, obese workers are at an increased risk of depression or other mental health issues, which can make them more at risk of opioid addiction problems. Additionally, if surgery is needed, obese patients are at a higher risk for complications such as blood clots, heart failure or even surgical site infection.

It’s important for employers and workers compensation professionals to understand the many ways in which obesity can affect workers compensation costs. However, this does not mean that an employer can deny an obese worker benefits if they become injured. Instead, employers and workers’ comp professionals should work together to identify claims that are affected by obesity and proactively manage them for optimal costs and outcomes that favor all parties.

About ASIA Workers’ Compensation

Associated Specialty Insurance Agency, Inc. has been “The Workers’ Compensation Specialist for Brokers and Agents” for the past two decades and is committed to providing brokers and insurance agents across the East Coast with expertise and services to develop a Workers’ Compensation policy. For more information about how we can assist you with claims management, anti-fraud measures, and more call (610) 543-5510 to speak with one of our professionals.

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