By Stuart D. Colburn, Shareholder, Downs Stanford, PC
Commentators suggest rising obesity rates increase workers' compensation costs.Obesity may now directly increase workers' compensation costs if more states require carriers to pay for weight loss surgery.
According to recent government statistics, 34% of all Americans are obese and 66% are overweight.Obesity represents 9.1 percent of all medical spending equaling 147 billion dollars in medical costs in 2008 alone.In 1980, approximately, 15% of Americans were obese.In 2006 that number rose to 34%.In workers' compensation cases, obese workers filed twice as many workers' compensation claims as a healthy person and their medical claim costs were seven times higher.
Recently, Indiana held that a 345 pound employee with a back injury is entitled to weight loss reduction surgery paid for under his workers' compensation claim.Doctors felt a back surgery would not give the injured worker any benefit unless he lost weight.He could not lose enough weight on his own.Therefore, his doctors recommended a weight loss surgery program including weight loss surgery.
Indiana is not alone.The Oregon Supreme Court held a workers' compensation carrier must pay for gastric bypass surgery.In that case, the injured worker had knee replacement surgery and the gastric bypass would insure success of that surgery.