August 2, 2021

The Early Impact of COVID-19 on Workers’ Comp Claims

The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) issued a new report that examines the early impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers’ comp, focused on the timing and patterns of medical care delivery during the first two quarters of 2020.

This report looks at non-COVID-19 lost-time claims with injury dates in the first two quarters of 2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2020 (pandemic period) across 27 states, representing 68% of workers’ comp benefits paid in the United States.

Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic did not lead to any major delays in care. Claims with injury dates in the first two quarters of 2020 did not experience any noticeable delay in medical treatment when compared to the first two quarters of 2019. In fact, injury claims in Q2 of 2020 saw slightly shorter wait times or certain services, such as emergency room services, physical medicine, major surgery, and neurological/neuromuscular testing. And across injury type, fractures and lacerations had a slightly shorter wait time before emergency services in 2020.

One proposed reason for shorter wait times during the start of the pandemic is that the general public may have avoided medical services for non-serious medical concerns to avoid potential viral exposure. However, one area where time between injury and care increased was time between sprains/strains and major surgery.

On the subject of utilization, certain services saw decreased utilization, including:

  • Emergency room services, which dropped 4% in utilization overall
  • Major surgery, which decreased 3% in utilization
  • Pain management injections saw a 2% decline in utilization

However, in states greatly impacted at the start of the pandemic – Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey – greater decreases in utilization were seen:

  • Physical medicine and major radiology utilization fell 6%
  • Emergency room services fell 8%
  • Major surgery services fell 3%
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