Obesity classification could spike workers’ comp costs

A recent American Medical Association (AMA) classification of obesity as a disease may significantly increase workers’ compensation claims costs, research released Aug. 8 by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) suggests.

Workers’ comp claimant obesity historically has been viewed as a co-morbidity issue that is largely unreported and often has not required medical attention before treatment of most work-related injuries and illnesses, according to the CWCI report, “Obesity as a Medical Disease: Potential Implications for Workers’ Compensation.”

Medical providers typically document only the medical issues they intend to treat and seek reimbursement for, according to the CWCI study.

“That may change, however, now that obesity has been reclassified as a disease, if medical providers feel a greater responsibility to counsel obese patients about their weight especially if there is a greater likelihood that they will be reimbursed for doing so or if treatment for a compensable injury causes significant weight gain,” the Oakland-based CWCI said.

That could result in more claims that include obesity as a co-morbidity and an increase in cases where obesity “is claimed as a compensable consequence of injury,” the CWCI said.

Meanwhile, the CWCI’s research of California claims shows that workers’ comp cases with obesity as a co-morbidity experience significantly more lost time from work, permanent disability ratings and attorney involvement, along with other expense-driving factors.

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