Workers' comp claims too high? High deductible plans may be the culprit

Turn it around with our simple strategy

November 28, 2022
Two construction workers in hard hats carrying lumber at a construction site

As high deductible health plans (HDHP) have become more popular, some businesses with workers in physically demanding jobs may be seeing more on-the-job injuries and workers' comp claims.

That's where voluntary benefits can help. Strategically adding voluntary benefits to an employee benefits package can reduce the risks of workers' comp claims by as much as 30%, according to the Colonial Life Director of Market Development, Patrick McCullough.

Companies in industries such as construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, oil and gas, trucking and restaurants often have strong workplace safety programs in place to manage employee and business risks. But even with rock-solid safety procedures, businesses can still struggle with above-average workers' comp claims.

Unintended consequence of high deductible plans

With the rising costs of health insurance plans, many workers are opting for HDHPs with budget-friendly premiums. But for many workers, the low premium/high deductible trade-off is a double-edged sword. Research shows that many workers with HDHPs are delaying or skipping medical care for injuries or medical conditions because they feel they can't afford the deductibles and coinsurance.

Icon of person with arm in cast

62% of HR experts said that employees who have difficulty affording out-of-pocket health plan costs could be more likely to report an off-the-job injury as a workplace injury.

IPMA-HR, Impact of Employee Out-of-Pocket Health Plan Costs on Report Workplace Accidents, 2019.

Adults with HDHPs

Avoiding treatments because of costs

Icon of wall clock

50% of adults or a family member postponed getting health care

Icon of stethoscope

39% of adults or a family member skipped a recommended test or treatment

KFF, Health Care Debt Survey, 2022.

McCullough explained this tendency to delay medical care is an unintended consequence of high deductible plans.

"If workers get hurt off the job or on the weekend, they might be treating themselves with home remedies or toughing it out when they go to work instead of going to the doctor," said McCullough. "And many of these workers are going to work with an untreated injury. In physically demanding jobs like in construction or manufacturing, an injury left untreated can unfortunately sometimes lead to an injury at work. Not because they are bad actors but because they can't afford their deductibles. And because these employees work very hard to support their families, they don't want to miss work or their overtime."

Another common issue is that many workers aren't saving enough money in their Health Savings Account (HSA) or similar savings account to cover their deductibles and coinsurance when they need medical care. Or they may not fully understand how their HSAs work together with their HDHPs.

Icon of money in hands

2/3 of workers who were considering an HDHP said they struggled to pay their deductibles.

Colonial Life, Employee Survey, company sponsored, 2021. 1,462 U.S. employees responded to the survey in August 2021.

Reducing risk of workers' comp claims

Employers can support their workers' health and, at the same time, reduce the risk of workers' compensation claims with an affordable voluntary benefits strategy.

Benefits such as accident and hospital indemnity insurance are designed to help cover employees' out-of-pocket medical expenses. If workers know their accident or hospital indemnity coverage will pay their deductible and co-insurance, they're more likely to seek medical care in a timely manner. And this will reduce the risk of employees going to work with a partial injury that then leads to a worse injury on the job, said McCullough.

Short term disability is another voluntary benefit that can help reduce workers' comp claims. This coverage gives workers the peace of mind to take time off of work to fully recover without worrying about losing the income from their paycheck.

Voluntary benefits strategy

Accident icon

helps cover out-of-pocket expenses due to an accident or injury

Hospital icon

Hospital indemnity
helps cover the cost of a hospital stay

Disability icon

Short term disability
replaces a portion of lost wages while recovering

"Companies in heavy industries can see a drop of between 20% and 30% in workers' comp claims after about a year of adding voluntary benefits," said McCullough. "Some companies see even greater reductions than that."

The affordability of accident, hospital and short term disability benefits have enabled many companies to pay for part or all of the premiums for their workers. But even if workers are responsible for the costs, many budget-conscious employees find the premiums of two or more voluntary benefits very affordable. This means they are likely to seek out medical care when they need it, instead of putting it off.

Benefits education is key

Many workers struggle to understand their benefits, and medical costs can be especially daunting. A strong benefits education program can help employees learn how to use their HDHPs and voluntary benefits, so they can effectively manage their out-of-pocket expenses.

Companies that want to strengthen their benefits education resources can reach out to brokers, carriers or agents for free or low cost materials that can be adapted to their needs.

Final thoughts

High deductible plans and rising out-of-pocket medical costs have increased the financial pressure on many workers in physically demanding jobs. Offering affordable voluntary benefits that provide an easy way to pay for high deductibles and coinsurance can encourage employees to seek medical care when they need it.