It’s been suggested that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) under-counts the number of workplace injuries each year, and that looking at how many workers’ comp claims are filed would provide a better measure of occupational injuries. But what if workers aren’t filing for comp benefits?
A survey (PDF) by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services shows only 54% of employees who suffered a workplace injury serious enough to get medical advice or treatment had their medical bills paid for by workers’ comp insurance in 2008. Treatment was paid for by private or government insurance in 25% of cases, and other means covered medical bills for 21% of the injuries.
What does this mean? According to the study, a substantial financial burden is falling on private and public insurers as well as on individual families paying for medical costs out of pocket.
The New Hampshire study notes that the annual BLS injury counts are questioned because some workers don’t report their injuries for fear of retaliation from their employers which can include disciplinary action, denial of overtime or promotion, harassment, or even job loss.
Why would 46% of workplace injuries not be covered by workers’ comp? One reason: Workers are discouraged from filing comp claims because companies want to keep their insurance premiums as low as possible.
This is the first time New Hampshire looked at these statistics. The state interviewed 6,892 adults. It found 4.9% said they had a workplace injury in 2008. That number is consistent with statistics for the number of injured workers in ten other states in 2007, ranging from 4.0% to 6.9%.
But there is a potential problem with the survey. The starting sample of almost 7,000 people was certainly large enough. By the time you weed out people who didn’t work during the year, reduce that number to the 5% who were injured and divide that number by two to represent those who didn’t get comp benefits, you’re working with a much smaller number which may not be statistically significant.
As is often recommended when it comes to surveys like these, more studies are necessary, and questions about why workers’ comp didn’t cover injury expenses need to be included.