WCRI study looks at medical prices and injured worker outcomes

A critical look at workers’ compensation and how to improve worker outcomes in Michigan.

Money and Medicine

The Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) published a study that looks at the role of medical prices and injured worker outcomes. A concern is that if payments are too low then access to medical care could be impacted resulting in worse outcomes. The study found that when workers’ compensation is made to pay about the same as group health insurance, there is not much difference in duration of temporary disability, access to care, and overall recovery. If workers’ compensation pays higher than group health insurance, there is also not much change in measures of recovery, speed and likelihood of return to work, and duration of temporary disability. The study concludes that other factors may be more important in shaping injured worker outcomes.

This study is fascinating as “cost containment” is a big feature of our workers’ compensation system. Michigan law regulates charges under workers’ compensation using fee schedules. Medical providers get stuck with fixed amounts regardless of their knowledge, experience, or skills. Our experience shows that access to medical care is available, but physician choice can be impacted.

We agree that other factors play a larger role in shaping injured worker outcomes. Uncertainty about weekly checks and poor initial medical care makes things worse for our clients. Treating people with empathy goes a long way to helping them recover and get back to work quickly. Here are some items that could make workers’ compensation better.

Workers’ compensation is supposed to be a safety net for employees who are hurt on-the-job. Unfortunately, fear is a common emotion that our clients experience. It can be overwhelming when they do not know if a paycheck is in the mail. Disabled employees are supposed to receive 80% of their after-tax average weekly wage. This comes out to be about 60% of gross wages. Most people live paycheck-to-paycheck and have a difficult time on less pay. Insurance companies can reduce this amount even more if they believe a disabled employee has a residual wage earning capacity. We have seen clients get their weekly checks slashed using these phantom wages. This is a major flaw with our system that needs to be fixed. A guaranteed minimum weekly benefit can reduce stress and worry.

Michigan law also lets employers select medical providers for the first 28 days. Our clients are frequently sent to industrial clinics where they get less than quality medical care. It is not until they see their own doctor that a proper diagnosis can be made. Delayed treatment can make a condition much worse and slow down recovery time. It is time to end this practice and allow injured workers to select their own doctors from the start of medical care.

Michigan Workers Comp Lawyers never charges a fee to evaluate a potential case. Our law firm has represented injured and disabled workers exclusively for more than 35 years. Call (844) 201-9497 for a free consultation today.

Related information:

What is the big deal about fee schedules?

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