1 CHAPTER 1 Wyoming Workers Compensation Workers Compensation Programs Benefit Injured Workers and Employers Injured workers receive medical and lost wage benefits, regardless of fault. Employers receive immunity from legal action in exchange for paying annual premiums. Wyoming s Workers Compensation program began in Workers compensation programs provide benefits to workers who are injured on the job or who contract work-related illnesses. Regardless of fault, injured workers receive predictable compensation and coverage of costs associated with their injuries. Benefits include cash payments designed to partially replace lost wages; they also cover the costs of medical care and in the case of fatality, provide death and burial payments to dependents. In exchange for paying premiums that fund these benefits, employers receive immunity from lawsuits that may result from worker injuries. Except under very limited circumstances, for employers and employees covered by workers compensation, program benefits are the exclusive remedy for employees who are injured at work. This means a mutual renunciation of common law rights and defenses by both employers and employees. In order for Wyoming to establish a workers compensation program, the citizens of the state had to approve amending the Constitution, Article 10, Section 4, which originally prohibited laws limiting damages in personal injury cases (see Appendix A). The Wyoming Worker s Compensation Act (W.S through ; Also see Appendix B) was first enacted in 1915, although the Act has been modified often since then. The most recent comprehensive revisions to the Act occurred in Then, the Legislature stated its intent for the Workers Compensation Division, requiring the law it administers to be interpreted to assure the quick and efficient delivery of indemnity and medical benefits to injured and disabled workers at a reasonable cost to the employers who are subject to the Worker s Compensation Act. (W.S (b))
2 Page 2 June 2003 Wyoming Workers Compensation Differs From Other States States design their own programs as there is no federal component. All states have workers compensation programs, although there is considerable variation in their structure and operation. The federal government does not have jurisdiction over state programs. Wyoming s Workers Compensation program differs from those in most other states in two key ways. First, in most states employers can purchase insurance from private carriers or can self-insure to meet the requirements of state law. Wyoming is one of a group of five states termed monopolistic, meaning employers purchase coverage from the state fund in order to obtain immunity from lawsuit. 1 Wyoming is one of five monopolistic state programs. Second, most other states require all employers to carry workers compensation coverage, while Wyoming only requires specified extrahazardous industries to be insured. Employers not designated as extrahazardous may elect coverage under the state program. Many Wyoming employers select this optional coverage to obtain the benefit of immunity. Department of Employment Administers Wyoming Workers Compensation The Workers Safety and Compensation Division (Division, or WSCD) within the Department of Employment (Department, or DOE) administers the program. Before government reorganization in 1989, the State Treasurer administered the workers compensation program through Clerks of District Court located throughout the state. WSCD is organized according to three major administrative functions: Workers Compensation claims, the Medical Commission, and the Occupational Safety and Health 1 Other monopolistic states are: North Dakota, Ohio, Washington, and West Virginia. Three of these states allow employers to self insure under specific circumstances.
3 Workers Compensation Claims Processing Page 3 This study s focus is on claims processing. Administration (OSHA). This study focuses on claims processing, which involves the first two of these functions. Claims is the Division s largest function and as its name implies, processes claims filed for Workers Compensation payment. The Medical Commission serves as one of two administrative hearing bodies that adjudicate Workers Compensation disputes. The second hearing body, the Office of Administrative Hearings, is organizationally independent from the Division. WSCD claims processing has a staff of 108 organized into six operational units: claims, information technology, case support services, administrative services, internal audit and compliance, and training. The claims unit is further divided into five districts, with seven field offices. Workers Compensation Covers Most Wyoming Employers and Employees An estimated 83 % of Wyoming s workforce is covered by Workers Compensation. An average of 15,242 employers participated in WSCD in FY 02, covering 267,596 employees or 231,473 individuals (some hold several jobs and are covered by more than one employer). The Department does not track statistics necessary to calculate what proportion of total Wyoming employers and employees are covered by Workers Compensation. A national study of workers compensation programs in 2002 estimated that 83 percent of Wyoming s workforce was covered by WSCD. Most employers participating in WSCD are small, with ten or fewer employees. Figure 1.1 shows the distribution of employers with Workers Compensation coverage by their numbers of employees.
4 Page 4 June 2003 Figure 1.1 Distribution of WSCD Participating Employers By Size of Workforce: FY % of employers participating in WSCD have fewer than 11 employees. 11 to 25 16% 26 to 50 6% > 50 6% 1 to 10 72% Source: LSO analysis of WSCD data 33% of participating employers opt to enroll in the program. The majority of Wyoming employers participating in Workers Compensation are required by law to do so WSCD has three categories of coverage: mandatory, optional and other. Mandatory and optional industries are specified in W.S ; 51 percent of employers paying for state Workers Compensation coverage are required by statute to have it because they are classified as extrahazardous. Another 33 percent of participating employers, those in the optional category, elect to have the coverage. The third category of coverage includes 16 percent of employers who may have some employees whose coverage is mandatory, some whose coverage is optional, and some who are specifically excluded from coverage. Injuries Reported Each Year WSCD reports the number of injuries that covered workers or employers report each year as being work related. Some of these are acute injuries resulting from workplace accidents, and others are long-term injuries and diseases that have developed over time. Initial reports of these conditions are included in WSCD injury report counts.
5 Workers Compensation Claims Processing Page 5 Injured workers cannot apply for benefits before their injury is determined compensable. Once WSCD receives reports of injuries or deaths, claims analysts must determine whether or not they are compensable. The Worker s Compensation Act (W.S (a) (xi)) defines injury as any harmful change in the human organism other than normal aging that arises out of and in the course of employment while at work in or about the premises occupied, used or controlled by the employer. WSCD must determine an injury compensable in order for a worker to apply for any medical or indemnity benefits associated with it. Division information for FY 01 and FY 02 shows that in both years, WSCD determined approximately 89 percent of the reported injuries as compensable. Figure 1.2 Reported Injuries FY 02 WSCD determined 89% of reported injuries to be compensable. Closed Without Determination 1% Compensable 89% Denied 10% Source: LSO analysis of WSCD data Workers Compensation Benefits Injured workers may be eligible for several different benefits. Wyoming workers with compensable injuries may be eligible for different types of benefits, depending on the nature and severity of their injuries: medical, indemnity or lost wage, vocational rehabilitation, and death benefits.
6 Page 6 June 2003 In FY 02, the system processed 15,400 compensable injuries and 250,000 claims for medical benefits. Workers compensation offers medical benefits Medical benefits cover medical care reasonably required to cure or relieve the effects of a workplace injury, with no deductible or copayments by the injured worker. These benefits are often shortterm, but Wyoming s Act provides that they can extend throughout the injured worker s lifetime, if warranted. Every request for a benefit is considered a claim, and every injury may result in multiple claims for medical benefits. For example, in FY 02 there were more than 250,000 claims for medical benefits, but only some 15,400 compensable injuries. WSCD makes medical payments according to a variety of guidelines and fee schedules which are established in rules. The payments go directly to the health care providers that deliver services, not to the injured workers. As illustrated in Figure 1.3, WSCD paid in full more than 90 percent of medical bills submitted in FY 01 and FY 02. Figure 1.3 Number and Percentage of Paid and Unpaid Medical Bills FY 01 and 02 WSCD approved and paid nearly 91% of all medical bills. Medical Claims FY 01 FY 02 Percentage Total Claims 239, ,619 FY 01 FY 02 Paid in Full 217, , % 90.9% Denied 22,568 23, % 9.1% Denied in Full 15,536 14, % 5.9% Denied in Part 7,032 8, % 3.3% Other 1 20 <1% <1% Source: LSO analysis of WSCD data, rounded Most injuries require only medical benefits and not lost wage payments. Most of the injuries WSCD determines compensable are termed medical-only because they require only medical benefits. This means most workers reporting compensable injuries do not make claims for lost wage payments. According to WSCD data, in
7 Workers Compensation Claims Processing Page 7 both FY 01 and FY 02, approximately 78 percent of compensable injuries were medical-only, leaving just 22 percent requiring both medical and indemnity benefits. Benefits are intended to offset the loss of income caused by a workplace injury. Death and burial benefits are also available in case of a workplace fatality. Workers Compensation also offers lost wage benefits Workers Compensation also offers benefits to partially offset the loss of income that some injured workers experience. These are lost wage or indemnity benefits, based upon the degree of impairment or disability workers suffer. Statute and WSCD classify these benefits, commonly referred to by their abbreviations, as follows: temporary total disability (TTD), permanent partial impairment (PPI), permanent partial disability (PPD), and permanent total disability (PTD). TTD is the most commonly applied-for lost wage benefit. All have statutorilyprescribed eligibility and duration criteria as well as benefit levels. An injured worker must apply for each indemnity benefit separately. In addition to the lost wage benefit categories, vocational rehabilitation benefits may be available to cover the cost of education, retraining and living expenses. These benefits can help an injured worker return to the workforce, but they are only available to eligible individuals who waive PPD benefits. In case of death due to work-related causes, death and burial benefits are available to the surviving spouse, children, or dependent parents. Figure 1.4 illustrates the type and number of indemnity benefit applications in FY 02. TTD claims account for approximately 84 percent of all indemnity benefit applications in FY 02; information from FY 01 is comparable.
8 Page 8 June 2003 Figure 1.4 Indemnity Benefit Applications FY % TTD 84% of all lost wage benefits applied for are Temporary Total Disability (TTD). 2.5% Other Benefits 0.6% Fatality 12.5% PPI 0.2% Voc. Rehab Temporary Total Disability Permanent Partial Impairment Other Benefits (Including PTD & PPD) Vocational Rehabilitation Fatality Source: LSO analysis of WSCD data Contested Cases Participants have a right to dispute any decision made by WSCD. The vast majority of Workers Compensation claims are processed quickly and without dispute or litigation. However, employees, employers, and health care providers are given the right to request a hearing when disagreement exists about a case or claim. The Workers Compensation Fund covers attorney costs for injured workers in contested cases. When disputes arise, WSCD claims analysts can refer parties to several different venues for resolution, depending on the nature of the dispute and the amount of money at issue. The Internal Hearings Unit hears cases concerning late filing. The Small Claims Court hears cases where the disputed amount is less than two thousand dollars and the issue is not one of compensability of an injury. The Medical Commission hears cases related to medical claims or treatments and physical impairment.
9 Workers Compensation Claims Processing Page 9 The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) hears cases involving compensability and denial or modification of compensation benefits. With claims supervisor, assistant administrator, and administrator approval, the Division may settle cases. Employer Premiums Provide Most Workers Compensation Revenues According to W.S (a), the Workers Compensation program will be neither more nor less than self-supporting. The primary source of program revenues is employer premiums. Additional funds come from Workers Compensation investment income and third party recoveries, as shown in Figure 1.5. Figure 1.5 WSCD Revenue Sources FY 02 Employers provide the majority of WSCD s revenue, through annual premiums. Premiums 85% Third Party Recoveries 1% Investment Income 14% Source: LSO analysis of WSCD and Employment Tax Division data To set premiums, the Department s Employment Tax Division groups employers into industry classifications. Pursuant to W.S (a), effective January 2003, WSCD replaced the Bureau of Labors Standard Industry Classification system (SIC) with the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) as the basis for these groupings.
10 Page 10 June 2003 Employers pay premiums based on their industry and claims history. These classifications group employers with similar operations to set base rates. Base rates for each industrial classification are adjusted annually to reflect the current and estimated future benefit costs for injuries incurred in that industry classification each year. Base rates for 2003, stated as a percentage of payroll, range from 0.22 percent (or 22 cents per $100 of payroll) for banking-related industries, to percent (or $12.24 per $100) for the logging industry. Then, within each industry classification, individual employers premiums are modified according to their own claims history, or their claims experience. The base rate modified by the individual employers experience rating determines the premium that the employer pays into the Workers Compensation Fund (Fund). Statute and rules specify caps on discounts and penalties that WSCD can assess employers based on their payroll size. Premiums fund present and estimated future costs. Workers Compensation fund solvency is statutorily required by Program funding situation has improved over time In contrast to earlier decades, Wyoming Workers Compensation does not receive any support from other state funds. Premiums paid by participating employers, plus interest earnings, fund the program s present-day costs in addition to estimated future costs for the current year s injuries. Premiums and other reserve amounts accrue interest to be dispersed as future benefits. Prior to 1993, there was no fund balance to invest. Since then, however, investment income has increasingly contributed to program revenues. From FY 99 through 02, it contributed an average of almost 16 percent of annual revenues. WSCD has an unfunded liability In the mid-1980 s, Wyoming Workers Compensation was not generating premium revenues to meet its expenses, finally prompting the Governor to call the Legislature into Special Session in In that session, the Legislature directed the program to fix rates to cover ongoing costs as well as all unfunded liabilities by By 1987, the program s unfunded liability for future benefits owed was estimated to be $20,000,000. Since then, WSCD has made progress towards solvency, as Figure 1.6 illustrates (also see Appendix C). At the end of FY 02, the Fund s balance was $396,192,348, or 71 percent of the estimated $556,900,000 required reserve.
11 Workers Compensation Claims Processing Page 11 The Division can fund 71% of its current liability. Figure 1.6 $580,000, $380,000, Required and Total WSCD Reserves FY Required Reserve Total Reserve $180,000, $20,000, Source: LSO analysis of WSCD data WSCD Current Expenditures 84% of the nearly $115 million FY 02 expenditures were on claims costs. In FY 02, 84 percent of WSCD total expenditures were spent on claims costs. Indirect costs, including expenditures related to claims processing and hearings, accounted for the remaining 16 percent of expenditures. Figure 1.7 shows expenses and proportion of expenses by category. Figure 1.7 WSCD Expenditures FY 02 Expense Category Dollar amount Percent of total expenditures Total Costs $114,289, Claims Costs $96,152, Indirect Costs $18,137, Source: LSO analysis of WSCD data
12 Page 12 June 2003 This page intentionally left blank.
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