Hot Button Issues in North Carolina Workers’ Compensation — 2011 (Part I)

January 24, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

From the corridors of the Research Triangle to rural parts of Western NC, North Carolina workers’ compensation specialists have been reviewing crucial trends in the industry and trying to identify the major issues that will shape the system in 2011. In a two-part blog post, we will be exploring pertinent studies and ideas weighing on the minds of physicians, employers, insurers, injured workers, and government policymakers.

1. OSHA bringing down the hammer

OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has stepped up its enforcement activity, according to the National Safety Council. The agency expects to collect $1 million this fiscal year for each of its 10 biggest penalties. A National Safety Council report indicates that, while the organization’s “Top 10” list of major workplace violations will remain the same, “the agency’s message of strong enforcement is clear.”

2. Medical costs continue to escalate: When and how will it all stop?

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has found that workers’ comp claims are skyrocketing – they now represent nearly 60% of all claims. A study in the January 2010 Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine reported that “injury types or diagnoses that don’t have clearly defined treatment pathways could easily lead to higher costs.”

Notably, fewer than 4% of all doctors are responsible for nearly three-quarters of workers’ comp costs. Perhaps by targeting those physicians and trying to help them treat patients more cost effectively, the North Carolina’s workers’ compensation system and other state systems could save some money without reducing care quality.

3. Hurt workers finding it harder than ever to get work

The “Great Recession” that stretched from 2008 to 2010 — and the relatively anemic recovery that’s followed — has meant that workers throughout the Atlantic region have found it difficult to earn effectively. That means hurt workers are finding it harder to get new work. This lag in reemployment stretches out temporary total disability benefit periods. This creates a drag on the system and a disincentive for hurt workers to find reemployment.

4. Murky definition of “independent contractors”

When should someone be considered an employee under workers’ comp law, and when should he or she be considered an independent contractor or freelancer? The answer may not be as clear cut as most employers and employees realize. The US Department of Labor, among other institutions, is cracking down. The DOL compelled employers to pay 5,200+ employees $6.5 million in back wages in 2010 – that’s more than double the 2009 numbers.

5. Information overload and confusion among workers’ comp beneficiaries… going WAY up

Despite the proliferation of websites, blogs, and other informational sources about workers’ comp (or maybe because of them), injured claimants are finding themselves more and more overwhelmed and confused by the sheer glut of often contradictory resources.

If you are struggling with a workers’ comp issue – or a friend or a family member is – get a free consultation from a qualified North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm.

More Web Resources:

About the Research Triangle

National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI)


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