Workers’ compensation benefits provided to injured workers in Virginia and around the country fell by almost 6 percent in 2014. According to a National Academy of Social Insurance report, workers’ compensation benefits per $100 of payroll fell from 97 cents in 2013 to 91 cents in 2014. Some experts were surprised by the drop as the workforce grew in 2014 thanks to an improving economy and a robust jobs market.
The 2014 figures are the lowest they have been in more than three decades. However, this does not mean that employers are paying less. The costs borne by employers, such as reimbursement payments, insurance premiums and administrative expenses, have been climbing at a rate five times faster than the benefits paid out. Employer costs exceeded total benefits by more than $29 billion in 2014, according to the NASI report.
The costs of providing medical treatment to those injured on the job continue to grow, and medical expenses have gone from accounting for 29 percent of total workers’ compensation benefits in 1980 to a little over 50 percent of the benefits paid out in 2014. An NASI representative was unsure if the reduction in workers’ compensation benefits in 2014 was a result of fewer workers suffering injuries or injured workers returning to work faster.
Fears over spiraling costs may lead some employers to contest workers’ compensation claims by arguing that the injuries suffered by their employees were not work-related. In these situations, attorneys with experience in this area may advocate during workers’ compensation hearings on behalf of injured workers. Attorneys could also work with injured workers to gather the evidence necessary to establish that the injuries are not being exaggerated.