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Challenges ahead for California’s workers’ compensation system

Workers' compensation has proven vital to California workers injured while on the job. As an insurance system, it protects employers from lawsuits while still providing injured workers the means to provide for basic living necessities after becoming injured. While workers' compensation continues to play a vital role in protecting workers, there are challenges to the system that can make workers' compensation more difficult for workers to obtain than ever.

Wage stagnation

According to the annual Compensation Planning Survey conducted by Buck Consultants, pay raises are still behind pre-recession levels, meaning that wage stagnation has been a problem for the last half-decade or more.

This affects workers' compensation because workers' compensation insurance companies believe wage growth is necessary to keep up with medical expenses. Wage stagnation could mean that insurance companies may not have enough "premium growth" to cover costs. For workers, this could mean insurance companies have more incentive than ever to control the costs of workers' compensation claims.

Opioid and marijuana use

Work injuries can be devastating and painful. In order to cope, many injured workers turn to painkillers. Opioids and medical marijuana are in widespread use. Unfortunately, opioids and medical marijuana are also subject to misuse. This affects injured workers in a number of ways. For one, it can be more difficult for workers who use medication as prescribed to receive necessary treatment. In addition, medical marijuana is illegal under federal law, although it is now legal in nearly half the states. In addition, workers' compensation insurance companies are paying close attention to opioid addiction, which can prevent recovery in some circumstances and make it more difficult for people with severe injuries and need medicinal help to have successful claims.

Workplace safety

Since the Occupational Health and Safety Administration was created in 1972, workplace safety has improved significantly. However, there are many industries that still cut workplace safety short in order to save money. Changing a company's safety culture takes time, and many industries have lagged behind in improving worker safety.

Changing demographics

As the U.S. workforce ages, repetitive motion injuries such as back strains and carpel tunnel syndrome may increase. However, it is not just older workers who are injured on the job. Research has shown that injury rates are similar for workers in their 30s and mid-40s as for older workers. Injuries that used to predominately affect older workers, such as knee injuries, are occurring more frequently to middle-aged workers, with permanent disability a real possibility for workers who are injured.

A workers' compensation attorney can help

Workers' compensation is constantly changing, and many injured workers continue to experience difficulties when trying to obtain the necessary insurance payments to cover medical expenses and lost wages after becoming injured at work. California workers injured on the job should contact an experienced workers compensation attorney to discuss next steps.

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