NCCI Releases New Study on Effects of Obesity in Workers Comp

June 20, 2012

There is mounting evidence of obesity contributing to the cost of workers compensation. Longitudinal studies by Duke University of its own employees-and by Johns Hopkins University of employees of a multi-site U.S. aluminum manufacturing company-point to substantially higher odds of injury for workers in the highest obesity category. Further, a 2011 Gallup survey found that obese employees account for a disproportionately high number of missed workdays, thus causing a significant loss in economic output. Finally, earlier NCCI research of workers compensation claims found that claimants with a comorbidity code indicating obesity experience medical costs that are a multiple of what is observed for comparable non-obese claimants.

The study shows that, based on Temporary Total and Permanent Total indemnity benefit payments, the duration of obese claimants is more than five times the duration of non-obese claimants, after controlling for primary ICD-9 code, injury year, U.S. state, industry, gender, and age. When Permanent Partial benefits are counted toward indemnity benefit duration as well, this multiple climbs to more than six.

And if the statistics aren’t enough to encourage action, consider this….

Employee is a 54 yr old laborer working for a landscaping company.  He is 5’4″ tall and weighs 310 pounds.  In 2002, while walking on grass with a bucket of weeds, he tripped on a rock.   Injured worker treated conservatively for years for knee and back pain as he was too large for an MRI (even the open ones only take up to 300 pounds).  The doctors felt that the only option for treatment was knee replacement surgery, but injured worker was told his obesity precluded him from being a candidate – he needed to lose 100 pounds before surgery was feasible.

By 2004 injured worker was over 350 pounds and unable to work. Employer continued to pay both indemnity and medical.  At this point, employer authorized a weight loss program and also paid for gym membership and transport.  To be certain progress was being made, employer authorized surveillance.  Injured worker was photographed going to gym and sitting.

In February, 2011, injured worker had lapband surgery.  He lost 60 pounds in first 6  months  -at this point he is down to 250 lbs and  requires surgery to remove skin, but still 50 pounds to go before knee surgery can occur.

Injured worker is now 64 yrs old now, not able to work and still waiting for surgery…

This incredible story is also true, and one I’m sure many of us can repeat from our own experiences…. as we’ve all heard many times, “truth is stranger than fiction”.

As a Medicare Set Aside company, Tower MSA Partners is reminded everyday of the significant impact of obesity on future medical cost  (Duke University,”Obesity and Workers’ Compensation: Results from the Duke Health and Safety Surveillance System”, 2007,  lists mthe edical cost of obese patients as 6.8 times that of patients of recommended weight) .   We also see the impact of obesity on both the quality of life and the life expectancy of the Medicare beneficiary.  Taking it a step further, when one considers the strong relationship between high opioid narcotic use and the lifestyle changes that almost invaribly lead to obesity, we find yet another reason to work diligently to identify these combination triggers as early in the life of the claim as possible.

The free report is available from NCCI here: NCCI Study on Effect of Obesity in Workers Comp.