Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Report Recommends Workers Compensation Changes

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Report Recommends Workers Compensation Changes

Article excerpt

Oklahoma employers should consider resorting to managed care for workers compensation, explore new ways to deal with old workplace injury problems such as low back injuries, and include employees in problem solving, according to recommendations in a research report sponsored by the Oklahoma City Health Care Coalition.

The title of the Nov. 13 report is "Workers Compensation in Oklahoma:

Employers' Efforts to Reduce the Risk of Injuries and Contain Costs." Conductors of the study surveyed 159 Oklahoma City companies with more than 150 employees, and 296 manufacturing companies statewide which employed more than 100 people.

Of the Oklahoma City companies which received surveys, 63, or 41 percent, responded. Statewide response was 103 companies, or 36 percent.

The study sought to identify the major causes of on-the-job injuries among Oklahoma employers and their efforts to reduce the likelihood and cost of injuries.

Workers compensation costs for fully insured employers have increased 65 percent over the last three years, according to the study. Half the employers surveyed said it is very likely their employees will file claims for lower back injuries this year. Three in 10 employers predict they will get workers compensation claims for cumulative trauma disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

The survey also said employees of small companies miss substantially more work because of occupational injuries and illnesses than employees of larger companies. Garry Ritzky, health-care coalition chairman, said larger companies may have lower reported rates of injuries because they have done more to reduce injuries and absenteeism than just the minimum requirements of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Among recommendations for improvement, managed care would direct employees to networks of preferred physicians, hospitals and other health-care providers. These networks provide discounts and do case management.

Also recommended were wellness programs to discourage smoking and being overweight, factors which increase the risks of on-the-job injuries.

The report said health and safety practices commonly used by companies are personal protective devices, monitoring environmental conditions, redesigning workstations and requiring pre-employment drug testing. For prevention, companies tend to rely on educational efforts such as Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation, how to avoid low back injuries, drug and alcohol abuse, smoking control and cholesterol screening.

Medical practices most commonly offered by companies are access to a physician or clinic, rehabilitation services and a lighter or modified work program, the report said. Most companies require pre-employment physicals, but rarely use workers compensation injury data to design them. "This is an example of how companies engage in efforts with unclear goals," the report said.

Half of companies reporting don't attempt to direct injured workers to high-quality and cost-effective providers of care, the report said. If Oklahoma was an "employer directed" state, it would be easier, because companies would be enabled by law to channel injured workers into a network of providers for a certain time following an injury. The report said more than half of states now are employer directed.

Most employers do not use programs which would help make sure that injured workers get necessary care, the report said. …

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