Speed of Workers' Comp Filing Affects Costs

Filing claims five or more days after an injury cost an average of\r\n15 percent more, a study reveals.

A company''s prompt reporting of workers'' injuries can have a considerable influence on its bottom line, according to a new study by The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc.

The study found that claims filed five or more days after an injury cost an average of 15 percent more for medical and income-replacement benefits than similar claims filed promptly.

"With medical and indemnity costs rising at an annual rate of 7 percent to 8 percent, controlling workers'' compensation costs has become increasingly important for companies," said Richard W. Palczynski, senior vice president and chief actuary at The Hartford. "The study demonstrates that early reporting can be one of the most effective ways risk managers can keep costs in check."

The Hartford analyzed more than 30,000 lost-time workers'' compensation claims over a five-year period from 1994 through 1998. The injuries fell into three categories: back injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome and other nerve disorders, and miscellaneous injuries, which represent about two-thirds of all lost-time workers'' comp claims. The study excluded claims for open wounds, fractures and dislocations, which are typically reported within 48 hours of occurrence.

The analysis shows early reporting of nervous disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome can save an average of 20 percent of medical and lost-time costs. Delaying reporting of a back injury increases claim costs by an average of 10 percent, and all other injuries cost 12 percent more.

Soft-tissue injuries, such as back injuries or sprains, can be particularly vulnerable to delays, said Cal Hudson, The Hartford''s group senior vice president. "It''s not unusual for a worker to strain his back, continue to work for several weeks and then seek medical attention only after the injury has been aggravated and the damage intensified. Companies need to emphasize to their employees that all occupational injuries no matter how minor need to be reported promptly so they don''t become major problems."

by Todd Nighswonger

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