Obese employees make more workers’ comp claims, and they make costlier ones than non-obese employees.
That conclusion was drawn by Lockton Companies based on its review of several independent studies on employees with high health risks (including obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and limited physical activity) and workers’ comp claims.
The Kansas City, Mo., provider of risk management, insurance, and employee benefits consulting services cites three studies that, when taken together, paint a troubling picture, especially of the impact overweight workers can have on workers’ comp claims.
Lockton says that wellness programs, properly designed and implemented, can address this situation by helping obese workers lose weight. But Lockton doesn’t offer any stats on how effective wellness programs are overall in combating obesity.
Still, the studies cited offer food for thought.
The University of Michigan Health Management Research Center studied Xerox Corp. employees and confirmed that “employees with high health risks tended to have the highest workers’ compensation costs.”
Xerox was an early proponent of wellness plans. The UM followed employees for four years and reported that “workers’ compensation costs increased for those employees whose health risks were increasing or high already (e.g., smoking, physical inactivity, hypertension, high cholesterol, and life/job dissatisfaction).”
Lockton also refers to a 2010 study by the National Council on Compensation Insurance which more closely correlated obesity with workers’ comp claims.
The data “showed that workers’ compensation claims that included the obesity comorbidity diagnosis incurred significantly higher medical costs than comparable claims without the high health risk. NCCI also discovered that claims for employees identified
as “obese” almost tripled from 2000 to 2009 from 2.4 percent to 6.6 percent,” Lockton said.
Lockton then cites a more recent NCCI study testing whether “the lost-time duration of obese claimants is a multiple of non-obese claimants.”
“According to their findings, obese claimants incurred medical costs 6.8 times higher than non-obese (as defined by body mass index), were twice as likely to file a claim and an indemnity duration that averaged about 13 times higher,” Lockton summarized.
What Lockton suggests is that companies take the following steps to empower their wellness plans to really help employees address chronic health issues:
- Proactively engage HR and employee benefits to better understand the scope and breadth of existing corporate wellness initiatives, as well as how the organization is tracking the effectiveness of those programs.
- Determine how your insurer and/or third party administrator is capturing data on comorbid factors in workers’ compensation claim files and how that information can be incorporated into effective analytics.
- Collaborate with internal safety, health, and environment professionals (if applicable) to discover how best to integrate employee wellness with workplace safety.
“Effective corporate wellness initiatives have shown to be successful in not only reducing the duration of lost-time workers' compensation claims,” said Lockton's Michal Gnatek, author of the report, “but also in promoting healthy behaviors that potentially inhibit unsafe or inattentive workplace behavior.
“Risk managers and claims professionals should be adding employee wellness to the available arsenal of weapons to combat increasing claims.”