Risk Analysis

Long Term, Younger Injured Workers Cost More

Thanks to increased narcotic use and higher rates of severe disability, younger injured workers are costing employers more in the long term.
By: | December 1, 2014

The increased percentage of quadriplegics and paraplegics and a higher use of narcotics may explain cost differences between younger and older long-term injured workers. A new report says a comparison of injured workers 20 to 30 years after an injury shows younger workers have higher medical expenses.

NCCI looked at late-term costs for claims of injured workers younger than 60 and older than 60 during the period 2011 to 2012. It showed that while the younger group had a smaller share of claims, they had a larger share of late-term costs.

“This indicates that annual medical cost per claim is larger for the younger cohort,” the report said. “Having only 45 percent of the claims but 57 percent of the cost, the younger cohort costs approximately 60 percent more per year per claim to treat than the older cohort.”

The younger workers averaged 14 more late-term medical care services per claim compared to the older workers. Also explaining some of the cost difference was the mix of injuries.

“A noticeable difference between age cohorts exists for quadriplegic and paraplegic claims,” the report said. “The share of quadriplegic and paraplegic claims for the younger cohort is more than three times the share of quadriplegic and paraplegic claims for the older cohort.”

The increased share of such injuries among younger injured workers may be explained by life expectancies. The report noted that life expectancies for persons with spinal cord injuries are “significantly shorter” than for those without, meaning the share of persons with such injuries would decline with age.

Prescription drug costs also played a role in the cost differences. The percentage of medical costs of a claim typically increases the longer a claim lasts because the emphasis may be more on relieving pain than curing the injury. However, “even after accounting for mix of injuries being treated, the younger cohort’s average annual prescription drug cost per claim is $1,000 higher,” the report explained. “This suggests that regardless of the type of injury, the younger cohort is either: prescribed more drugs, prescribed more expensive drugs, or some combination of the two.”

While both cohorts have eight of the top drugs in common, “eight of the top drugs for the younger cohort are narcotics while only four of the top drugs for the older cohort are narcotics,” according to the report. “The narcotics share of drug costs generally decreases with claimant age. It follows that the narcotics share of drug costs is larger for the younger cohort than for the older cohort.”

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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