Is workers' comp fair?

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Disability Settlements and Workers' Comp

People who receive higher disability ratings for work-related back injuries don't necessarily fare worse over the long term than those who get lower ratings, a Saint Louis University study finds.

The study, which reinforced previous research showing blacks receive less treatment for their back pain than whites, was published online this month in the Journal of Pain. The new research is among the first to examine the relationship between Workers' Compensation settlements for back pain and long-term functional outcomes.

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"A disability rating is supposed to reflect the amount of impairment a person has at the time that a case is closed. The presumption is that levels of impairment are stable and related to day-to-day levels of function. I was shocked that the associations between disability rating and subsequent levels of function weren't stronger," said Raymond Tait, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

Disability ratings also differed between African-Americans and Caucasians. According to Tait, those differences probably reflected differences in treatment: whites were four times more likely to have surgery than blacks. Thos who had surgery received larger settlements for their injuries, Tait said.

"While surgery inflated disability ratings, there appeared not relationship between surgery outcomes and how a person did thereafter," he said.

Tait and colleague John Chibnall, Ph.D., also a professor of psychiatry at Saint Lois University, looked at about 1,500 Missouri workers

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