Permanent Disability at Private, Self-Insured Firms: A Study of Earnings Loss, Replacement, and Return to Work for Workers' Compensation Claimants

By Robert T. Reville; Suzanne Polich et al. | Go to book overview

SUMMARY
In 1996, the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers Compensation began a five-year comprehensive review of workers compensation permanent partial disability. As part of that review, this report investigates the long-term economic consequences of a disabling injury, the success of return to work,1 and the adequacy of compensation at private, self-insured employers in California.The analysis in this report was conducted in response to comments from stakeholders on an earlier report (Peterson et al., 1998), which showed that workers injured on the job in 1991 at insured firms in California experienced significant and sustained wage losses as well as low replacement rates over the five years immediately after injury. An advisory committee to the commission argued that the results might not apply to self-insured employers, which are larger and therefore better able to accommodate workers with disabilities. Data on self-insured firms were unavailable for Peterson et al., but a unique data collection effort and new analysis now confirm earlier findings and extends them to private, self-insured firms.The main findings of this report include the following:
Permanent partial disability (PPD) claimants at private, self-insured employers from 1991 through 1995 experienced significant earnings losses over the first five years after injury.
After injury, PPD claimants at self-insured firms were more likely to continue to work, less likely to drop out of the labor force or retire, and if they remained employed were more likely to work at the at-injury employer than their counterparts at insured firms.
Due to improved return to work, injured workers at self-insured firms experienced a lower proportion of earnings lost than did injured workers at insured firms.
On average, because workers at self-insured firms have higher wages, they are more likely to have weekly wages that exceed the maximum temporary disability indemnity payment. Consequently, workers compensation benefits replaced a smaller fraction of losses at self-insured firms (48 percent) than at insured firms (53 percent).
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1
Return to work is a term used by participants in the workers compensation system to describe various aspects of employment following injury. It usually refers to the amount of time between the injury and the first return to work, which is sometimes called the return-to-work rate. More generally, it refers to both return-to-work rates for injured employees, as well as other characteristics of post-injury employment, such as retention, subsequent employment, and other factors. In this report, we intend return to work to imply the more general definition.

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