Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global COVID-19 pandemic, the impact across various industries globally has been profound. It has been hugely challenging for businesses in unimaginable ways. But what about the Workers’ Compensation sector? Many health providers have found themselves asking: Will this mean that work comp cases are decreasing or increasing during the pandemic?
The pandemic has brought about an abrupt shift in the way we earn our livelihood. Telecommuting (or work-from-home) has become the order of business the past year while an unfortunate number of people have found themselves without a job. Meanwhile, certain industries such as hospitality, transportation, construction, aviation, supply chain, retail, healthcare, and manufacturing are industries that cannot, for obvious reasons, transition into telecommuting.
People in these industries, by default, are more at risk of sustaining a work injury but moreover, they are substantially exposed to the dreaded coronavirus through close contact with coworkers, customers, and other external factors. In addition, these same workers pose an even greater risk as they may be working longer hours than usual which could possibly lead to claims due to overexertion. Injuries in this regard are valid claims under workers’ compensation systems.
So what does this mean for workers’ compensation claims? Initially, industry observers saw an overall decrease in work comp cases when the pandemic was announced for the plain reason that fewer people will be working - be it outside their homes or because they were laid off. Then again, no industry is the same and as mentioned, many employees of essential industries are still out in the fold, working.
However, we can’t substantially claim that work comp cases are either increasing or decreasing. Like the work comp laws that cover each of the fifty states, the data on pandemic-era work comp claims varies per state. For example, the state of Florida shows that there was an actual increase in workers comp cases in 2020 from the previous year.
2020 saw the height of the pandemic as it was within that timeframe states started declaring statewide stay-at-home orders (or lockdowns). Case in point, California ordered its residents to stay home on 19 March 2020 unless one is a member of the essential workforce or will be shopping for essential needs. In the Midwest, Indiana declared a lockdown to take effect on 25 March of the same year. All other states followed roughly the same timeframe in declaring their own measures to minimize the movement of people in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
What we’re trying to illustrate is that the downturn in total work comp cases across states should have taken effect in 2020. However, states such as Florida have experienced an increase of work comp cases versus the year prior. Florida reported a total of 63,387 work comp cases in the state and was up by 3% in 2021 at 63,387.
|WCD Claims Database Statistics (Florida)|
But Florida provides only a small sample size of work comp claims increase as most states have not released their 2020 data. According to OliverWyman, a global management consulting firm, they reported an 11.4% dip in overall work comp claims, particularly noting that “medical-only claims dropped precipitously in March through May and have remained lower year-on-year in every month since COVID started.” In contrast, “Indemnity claim counts have actually increased year-on-year in every month April through July 2020, despite the overall downturn in reported claim counts,” the report said.
All things considered, the workers’ compensation market remains competitive. What’s safe to assume is that there are still multiple sources of work comp claims given the current climate. For one, it has been recently published that ergonomics may become a sleeper issue for work comp cases. The article mentioned that many Americans are suffering from physical pain in wrists, backs and shoulders potentially caused by poor ergonomics in work-from-home setups.
Two out of every five telecommuting Americans are reportedly feeling new or increased pain in the shoulders, back, and wrists and was much more prevalent in those aged 20 to 35 years old. Seeing that remote work will be the name of the game in the foreseeable future, this issue is expected to increase in the coming months.
On the other hand, ergonomic challenges are not only limited to telecommuters. Essential workers are working more shifts and toiling longer hours which leave less time for recovery placing greater strain on their bodies as a result.
Let’s get one thing out of the way - telemedicine did not rise solely due to the disruptive effects of the pandemic. In fact, it has seen steady growth the years prior as both patients and medical providers understood the convenience of telemedicine. But according to Mitchell’s work comp bill review data, it’s also worth mentioning the glaring 91% upsurge in telemedicine visits in the first week of April 2020 alone. Now, we can only wonder if this current year will be able to sustain the all-time high telemedicine usage rates.
With social distancing guidelines in place, telemedicine, in essence, virtually takes the patient inside the doctor’s office for minor inquiries, re-checks, or after-hours consultation - all thanks to the internet. No need for lengthy travel and staying inside cramped waiting rooms where one could incur a potential exposure to the virus. Face-to-face visits would then be reserved for those who really need it.
As we continue to navigate through this pandemic, it’s important to understand that risks in workplace injuries are still present which means patients will need someone to run to during the time of need. One of the ways to get your name out there is by getting your practice listed in the only national directory that is 100% dedicated to workers’ compensation doctors (and you can do it for free). Workers-Compensation-Doctors.com also offers a proven way to increase your work comp referrals to get your practice going by getting patients back to good health.