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

CHAPTER 5
COMPARING RESULTS ON RETURN TO WORK AT INSURED AND
SELF-INSURED FIRMS

One of the primary motivations for this study of the adequacy and equity of permanent disability benefits at self-insured employers stems from the anecdotal evidence that return to work is better at self-insured firms than it is at insured firms in California. As discussed in Chapter 1, the term return to work refers to a broad range of measures of post-injury employment, including the amount of time it takes for injured workers to return to the job, retention after injury at the employer of injury, subsequent injury-related unemployment, and other measured factors.

For instance, as Chapter 4 discusses, workers at self-insured firms have lower proportional wage losses during the first few years after injury, which could be attributed to more continuous employment in the years immediately following injury. As noted in Chapter 1, economic theory suggests that return to work will in fact be better in most cases at self-insured firms, and the empirical literature supports this prediction (Krueger, 1990; Biddle, 1998a, 1998b).

In this chapter, we examine post-injury employment among permanent partial disability claimants at self-insured and insured firms in California.

Typically, return to work is estimated using data on lost workdays and/or temporary disability benefits. However, these measures capture only one of the dimensions of return to work that may affect long-term losses the short-term effects of the disability suffered by the worker. Several recent studies have shown that unemployment subsequent to an initial return to work is common among injured workers (Biddle, 1998a; Butler, Johnson, and Baldwin, 1995; Krause et al., 1999; Galizzi and Boden, 1996; Peterson et al., 1998). For this reason, we will examine a more universal estimate of return to work: post-injury employment relative to a comparison group.1

Figure 5-1 shows the proportion of PPD claimants at self-insured firms in 1993 that are employed over the three years prior to injury and the five years following injury. At the quarter of injury, this proportion is 100 percent, because the quarter of injury is the quarter during which the

____________________
1
We do not measure the amount of time to first return to work in this report. While this is an important component of employer cost, that measurement is not likely to capture the employment consequences of a disabling injury as effectively as the measure used in this report. We also do not have temporary disability benefits reported separately for many employers, and the date of return to work was reported by very few employers.

-41-

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