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Washington Workers Compensation Costs for Employees Are Rising

Washington workers comp is administered by the Labor and Industries (L&I) agency in Washington state. The goal of the agency is to provide compensation benefits to employees injured on the job or suffering from an illness resulting from workplace conditions. A parallel goal is to monitor costs and attempt to minimize the overall costs of workers comp in Washington.

Recently, the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) announced a 12 percent average increase in workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2011, the rates will increase the average workers costs by 6.5 cents per hour.

While the Department understands that during this difficult economy the last thing workers need is increased fees, there are multiple reasons why this increase is necessary. First, because the economy is poor, there are fewer jobs and fewer workers. That leads to fewer workers paying into the workers comp fund so the fund has less money than it needs. Second, the workers comp fund invests the money in “typical” investments and those investments are doing poorly in this economy. Third, injured workers are staying on benefit leave for longer periods of time, leading to increased payments for lost wages. In addition to these issues, medical costs continue to skyrocket.

The Department of Labor & Industries is doing what they can to control increases in costs to workers. By combining with others and creating efficiencies, they have been able to keep the increase in medical and prescription costs well below the national average. They are also focused on reducing and minimizing fraudulent claims which waste money for legitimate claims. Reportedly, they have recovered $128,000,000 from 2010. They have also cut millions of dollars of benefits from their department budget.

This may be of little consolation to workers in Washington, the only state in which workers pay a significant part of the premiums, about 24% based on the proposed rate for 2011.

If you have been injured on the job in Washington, there is a 6-step process outlined by the Department of Labor & Industries. Their steps are: 1) injured at work, 2) file a claim, 3) approve claim, 4) reject claim, 5) get back to work and 6) close the claim.

The Department has 20 offices in locations throughout Washington and over 2500 employees including safety inspectors, claims specialists, and labor experts to assist you and your employer in the workers compensation claim process.

If you have been injured on the job or have developed an illness as a consequence of the workplace, you are in phase 1 and must start organizing your claim. If you are unable to work, you may be eligible for wage-loss payments and ultimately you will start planning your recovery and return to work. Payments will be coordinated either directly with L&I, or, if your employer is self-insured, with your employer.

It’s important to understand your rights during a workers comp claim and to know how and when you may protest decisions throughout the process.

If you qualify, you will be eligible for wage replacement payments pay of about 60 – 75% of the wage you were earning, subject to a maximum amount and dependent upon how many dependents you have.

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