Weighing the Obesity Factor in Workers’ Compensation

By Denise Johnson | May 6, 2014

Obesity costs U.S. businesses $13 billion a year, according to Reuters. The disease impacts healthcare, workers’ compensation claims costs and outcomes and comorbidities, according to Kevin Glennon, a certified workers’ compensation claims professional and vice president at One Call Care Management.

Glennon and Kate Wolin, associate professor at Loyola University of Chicago’s School of Medicine, presented on the subject at the Risk Management Society conference in Denver last week.

The experts said additional adverse costs associated with obesity include $5 billion more spent on jet fuel than in 1960 and $4 billion more in gas, due to heavier automobile passengers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity rates have climbed in the United States. Currently, no state in the nation has an obesity rate less than 15 percent.

Credit: CDC
Credit: CDC

Obesity is currently defined as when a person’s body mass index (BMI) is 30 or more – a measure determined by height and weight. Glennon said that BMI is not always a good method of determining obesity, citing an example of a firefighter injured on the job who weighed more than 250 pounds and stood over 6 feet tall but had low body fat because he was a weightlifter.

One important factor to consider is that a person weighing more than 250 pounds requires specialized equipment, because standard equipment can’t accommodate that kind of weight. Heavy duty bariatric equipment must be used for anyone tipping the scales at over 250 pounds.

Glennon said that there is equipment out there that can accommodate up to 1000 pounds. According to Reuters, a bariatric chair able to hold 500 pounds costs $1056 and a bariatric toilet with a weight rating of 700 pounds costs $1049. The costs associated with the specialized equipment are higher because it must be manufactured to be stronger.

Besides the costs associated with specialized equipment, there are additional costs associated with obese patients’ special needs like transportation, diagnostics, home health care and impaired mobility.

As a result, Glennon said “[there is a] distinct increase in overall medical expenditures in workers’ compensation claims.”

In addition, obese patients often have multiple comorbidities, Glennon said. Complications like diabetes, hypertension, stroke and osteoarthritis are common among obese patients.

Glennon provided some key takeaways for adjusters and risk managers handling claims involving obese patients:

  1. Address common injuries – obese patients are prone to lower extremity injuries.
  2. Recognize the weight red flag – 250 pounds.
  3. Protect joints during injury treatment.
  4. Address and treat comorbidities.
  5. Identify special needs equipment that may be needed.
  6. Manage other complications.
  7. Develop a proactive return to work plan.

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