How the Affordable Care Act Will Affect Workers’ Compensation & Your Employees

As a member of management, you want to have answers for your employees. Unfortunately, you’d have to be superhuman to both anticipate and answer every question they come up with, especially when a major paradigm shift like the Affordable Care Act occurs. So far, most of the debate has centered on personal health plans and the difficulty associated with signing up for them. But what does it mean for your workers’ compensation policy?

From an Employee Perspective

Little, if anything, will change for your employees. If you have a workers’ compensation policy, it won’t need to change just because the Affordable Care Act takes effect. Of course, like any other HR policy, you may want to periodically re-evaluate and update it.

Effect on the Workers’ Compensation System

Not every state requires employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. The National Federation of Independent Business has a comprehensive table of state requirements. This section assumes your business does carry workers’ compensation insurance.

Here are the basics: If a worker is hurt on the job, he or she reports it and is sent to an in-network care provider (like an urgent care facility) that understands the special needs and procedures associated with workers’ compensation cases. This type of insurance covers the doctor, medical and hospital bills, helps make up for lost wages and, if an employee can’t return to work, pays a long-term benefit.

With the sharp increase of insured Americans next year, it’s likely more people will be taking advantage of their ability care benefits to visit doctor’s offices and urgent cares. Thus, there may be less availability to services or longer wait times in the workers’ comp system. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it may not be. But, it’s possible that where an employee hurt in the morning could be checked and back to work (if able) by lunch, it may take all day for that employee to be seen or for paperwork to be sent over to your office. There’s no guarantee either way, but it may behoove your business to prepare for that eventuality.

Wellness Programs

The Affordable Care Act also created incentives for providing employee wellness programs, as healthy employees put less strain on the healthcare system. As management, you need to consider what your employee wellness program will look like and whether it might create liability for you that could increase your workers’ compensation claims. If you go so far as to offer on-site exercise classes, have you created liability? That will depend on a few factors, like whether your employees have signed waivers, but that’s the kind of comprehensive thinking you need to do to protect both your employer and your employees. As always, be diligent and cautious in implementing new policies.