Lead author Paul Leigh -- a professor of public health sciences affiliated with the University of California, Davis, Center for Healthcare Policy -- said workers' compensation insurance is not used nearly as much as it should be to cover the multibillion-dollar cost of workplace illnesses and injuries.
Leigh and colleagues found the total annual costs for occupational injuries and illnesses in 2007 were nearly $250 billion, and 21 percent -- or $51.7 billion -- of those costs were covered by workers' compensation. The remaining 79 percent -- $198 billion -- is paid by:
-- Other non-workers' compensation health insurance: $14.22 billion.
-- Workers and their families: $10.38 billion.
-- Medicare: $7.16 billion.
-- Medicaid: $5.47 billion.
-- $160.68 billion in lost productivity was covered by other sources, including workers and their families, the Social Security Disability fund and state disability funds.
"Cost-shifting affects everyone, because we're all paying higher Medicare and income taxes to help cover that 79 percent," said Leigh said in a statement. "Workers' injuries and illnesses cost much more than what current workers' compensation payments suggest, and the resulting low premiums provide little incentive for companies to promote workplace safety."
The findings were published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.