One bit of good news coming from the COVID-19 pandemic is that the economic downturn has boosted efforts to close older workers’ comp claims that have been lingering as both sides cannot agree on a settlement.
Due to the financial pain brought on by the sudden downturn, injured workers who have been reluctant to settle their claims have been coming forward to close them, according to workers’ comp attorneys.
The injured workers are often settling their claims for less than they were demanding before. One lawyer told Business Insurance magazine that he was seeing claimants come in with offers that were on average 10% lower than previously.
This is an important development for employers who have legacy workers’ compensation claims that have stayed open as the injured worker remains on permanent disability and may also still be receiving ongoing or sporadic medical treatment. Employers want to close these claims because the longer they stay open, the more they end up costing the insurer, and hence it drives up the employer’s workers’ comp costs.
One of the most unpredictable parts of older claims is unexpected adverse claims cost development, particularly if the injured worker develops new medical complications that are an outgrowth of or related to the original injury claim.
When that happens, the workers’ comp carrier will also have to pick up the tab for that treatment, further driving up the cost of the claim and affecting the employer’s workers’ comp experience.
Work with your insurer
In a white paper, global insurance giant Marsh recommends that employers try to work with their insurers to proactively settle these older claims to save money in the near and long term, and to reduce the prospects of the claim deteriorating further given the “uncertainty about the post-COVID-19 economic environment.”
Marsh said that businesses should take a strategic approach to closing these old claims by working with their insurer’s claims adjuster and using analytics and claims inventory management tools to identify complex claims and focus on settling them first.
Another smart move is to stay in close contact with injured employees to help them navigate the workers’ comp system. And if they are at home on the mend, the employer should make a point to regularly reach out to them to see how they are healing up and if they have questions about their claim and the process for returning work.
This is one of the best ways to reduce the chances of an injured worker becoming disgruntled and hiring a lawyer to litigate their claim, which will usually drive up the cost of the claim in addition to the time they are away on workers’ comp disability.
Insurers are also feeling the effects of the COVID-19-related economic downturn, which gives them an incentive to try to settle old claims so they don’t have that uncertainty of how much they will eventually end up paying for the claim.
The downturn has also forced some insurers to consider laying off claims representatives as they deal with the prospect of lower premium volumes.
Injured workers may also have an incentive to get their claims closed by receiving a lump-sum payment now, which they may need due to the poor economic environment.
If you have any legacy workers’ comp claims that are still being paid, you may want to consider reaching out to your insurer to see if there is a possibility of getting the injured worker to renegotiate a settlement so you can get the claim closed. The longer it stays open and because of the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, it would behoove any employer to take this step.