Medical costs for workers' compensation drops in California

Insurance companies who cover workers' compensation medical claims in California have reduced their costs yet again -- but that's not necessarily a good thing for the injured workers the system is supposed to serve.

According to a recent report, the total combined costs for workers' comp insurance companies in 2018 dropped to $14.3 billion. That's down from $16.2 billion in 2017. Costs only equated to 82% of the premiums collected in 2018, which is an improvement over the 92% that was used in 2017. Insurers covered fewer medical costs in all categories of care -- with the sole exception being payments made directly to the injured. Those actually slightly increased from $1.34 billion in 2017 to $1.47 billion the following year.

What does that mean?

Critics say it definitely shouldn't be taken as a sign that the workplace is getting any safer for employees. Instead, it's an indication that the system is working against the injured, likely depriving them of badly needed medical treatment after injuries occur. And, they say, if insurance companies have their way, the situation will keep getting worse for injured employees. The last major reforms to the system were in 2012, and many see those reforms as being largely beneficial to the big insurance companies, not the victims of work injuries.

Those who advocate for the average worker are poised to fight back. Several bills are gaining ground in the legislature that would help victims. Assembly Bill 1107, for example, would make it easier for the injured to challenge the medical care decisions made in their case and demand better treatment. Employers, naturally, oppose it. Another measure, known as Senate Bill 542, would automatically entitle first responders to workers' comp when they suffer from mental illness.

The constant battle over workers' comp payments and victims' rights is one of the reasons that injured workers are best advised to seek legal help early in their cases.

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