The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as it has often been referred to as, figures to have a significant impact on the American healthcare landscape in the next couple of years and beyond. One aspect that is often overlooked by the average person is worker’s compensation. Though it will likely take years for the impact of the ACA on worker’s comp to be sorted out completely, but the potential changes could be significant.
According to Ruth Estrich, chief strategy officer for MedRisk, there are two main ways the ACA could impact worker’s comp. For one, it could be beneficial if injured individuals choose to turn to their health care provider, rather than file for compensation, when they get hurt. But on the other hand, if there is a shortage of physicians — which is a distinct possibility — worker’s comp costs could increase and it could take longer for injured individuals to get treatment.
“Reducing access to primary physicians could have a significant impact on workers’ comp,” she said.
Tom Hebson, VP for Product Development & Government Regulations for Safety National has crunched the numbers and believes there could be a significant shortage of physicians by 2015. He notes that there will only be a 7% increase in the number of physicians by 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but the number of Americans over the age of 65 will swell by 36% over the same time period, according to projections by the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2015, the estimated doctor shortage will be around 63,000 and that number could nearly double to 131,000 by 2025.
As a result, he poses the question, “Will workers’ compensation benefits be the fall back medical benefit provider for workers that cannot find adequate or affordable healthcare coverage or are channeled into less effective healthcare providers?”
It is an interesting proposition to be sure, and one that does not have an answer as of yet.
“The ACA impact on workers’ compensation costs will likely take years to sort out and analyze,” he adds. “The nature of the workers’ compensation business is long tail and this will delay accurate data analysis for years to come.”