Rising Unemployment Rates Lead to Decrease in Workers’ Comp Coverage, Costs

According to a report released Aug. 16 by the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), workers’ compensation coverage and costs to employers have declined, a trend that likely can be attributed to the nation’s unemployment levels.

The report, “Workers’ Compensation: Benefits, Coverage and Costs, 2009,” reveals that the number of employees covered by workers’ comp dropped 4.4 percent in 2009, the most recent year with complete data available. Employer costs for workers’ comp benefits, meanwhile, declined by 7.6 percent.

“As one might expect, when the Great Recession hit, employers paid less in workers’ compensation costs because there were fewer workers to cover,” said John F. Burton Jr., chair of the panel that oversees the report.

The report found, on the national level:

  • Approximately 124.9 million workers were covered by workers’ compensation in 2009.
  • The 7.6 percent decrease in costs meant that employers paid a total of $73.9 billion nationwide for workers' compensation in 2009, the largest decline in the last 30 years.
  • Workers’ comp programs nationwide paid a total of $58.3 billion in benefits in 2009, representing a 0.4 percent increase from the previous year.
  • Payments for medical care declined for the first time in a decade by 1.1 percent to $28.9 billion, although they continued to make up roughly half of total workers' compensation benefits. Cash benefits, meanwhile, increased by 1.9 percent.
  • A total of 4,551 fatal occupational injuries occurred in 2009, representing a 12.7 percent decline from the previous year.
  • One million occupational injuries or illnesses requiring recuperation away from work were reported in private industry, representing a decrease in the injury and illness rate from 3.0 per 100 full-time workers in 1992 to 1.1 in 2009.
  • Covered workers’ aggregate wages decreased by 4.7 percent in 2009.

“For long-term trends, it is useful to consider workers’ compensation benefits and employer costs relative to aggregate wages of covered workers. In a steady state, one might expect benefits to keep pace with covered wages. This would be the case with no change in the frequency or severity of injuries and if wage replacement benefits for workers and medical payments to providers tracked the growth of wages in the economy generally,” the report stated. “However, in reality, benefits and costs relative to wages vary significantly over time.”

For more information and to read the report in its entirety, visit http://www.nasi.org.

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