L&I Proposes Small Increase in Workers' Comp Rates for 2022

L&I is proposing a small increase in the average price employers and workers pay for workers' compensation insurance next year. If the proposal is adopted, it would be the first time in 5 years that workers' compensation rates would go up, but on average, premiums in 2022 would still be less than in 2017.

The proposed 3.1% overall average rate increase is driven by cost-of-living adjustments for pensions, which were triggered by an increase in the state's average wage. This is an average, meaning some employers will see their rates go down while others will see larger increases.

Employers and workers pay into the workers' compensation system to help cover the cost of providing wage and disability benefits for injured workers, as well as medical treatment of injuries and illnesses.

In 2021, L&I took steps to help employers and workers reeling from the pandemic by tapping its contingency reserves to avoid an increase in premiums. This approach is also true for 2022. Under the current proposal, L&I will use contingency reserves to cover any gap between premiums and ultimate costs rather than proposing to raise rates even more.

Questions About the Proposed 2022 Premium Rates

    Why has L&I proposed a 3.1% increase for 2022?

    L&I attributes the proposed increase to several factors, including wage inflation and the corresponding increase in cost of living adjustments for pensions. L&I will tap its contingency reserves to augment the proposed increase. Workers and employers focusing on safety, and L&I initiatives that are helping injured workers recover sooner and reducing workers' compensation costs are helping keep the proposed increase to a minimum.

    How did L&I account for COVID-19 in the rate-making process for 2022?

    Coronavirus-related workers' comp claims didn't have a direct impact on the proposed 2022 rates. L&I has implemented measures to assist businesses adversely impacted by the pandemic, including allowing employers to defer premium payments. Go to our frequently asked questions (FAQs) on coronavirus for more information.

    Why are rates for many employers different from the proposed 3.1% increase?

    The proposed 3.1% increase is an average. Individual employers may see their rates go up or down, depending on their recent claims history and changes in the frequency and cost of claims in their industry risk classification. Those changes also can increase or lower premiums paid by workers because workers in Washington pay a portion of the total premium. Go to Lni.wa.gov/WorkersCompRates to see the proposed changes for all risk classes.

    How much will the proposed rate increase cost employers and workers?

    The proposed 2022 increase will cost employers and workers an average of about $38 a year per employee.

    What percent of the premiums do workers pay?

    Workers pay on average about 27% of the premium, a similar percentage to that paid in 2021. The actual percentage depends on the classification of the worker's company and its recent claims history. Washington is the only state where workers pay a significant portion of the premium.

    The total rate is made up of 4 rates that provide benefits when workers are hurt on the job:

    • The accident rate, which pays for wage replacement benefits and disability awards.
    • The medical aid rate, which pays for medical care and vocational services.
    • The supplemental pension rate, which pays for cost-of-living adjustments for long-term time-loss and pension recipients.
    • The Stay at Work rate, which pays for employer financial incentives to keep employees on light-duty jobs while they heal.

    Workers and employers each contribute one-half of the medical aid, Stay at Work Program, and supplemental pension premiums. Employers pay for all the accident premiums.

    How many risk classes will have higher workers' comp rates next year?

    Out of the state's 325 risk classes, 230 will have higher base rates in 2022 if the proposed changes are adopted.

    The supplemental pension rate is increasing 14% to 15.6 cents per hour. For many of the lower-rated risk classes, the supplemental pension rate is a significant portion of the rate and will cause an overall increase to the class rate even if other parts of the rate are decreasing.

    Why do my rates go up if I haven't had a claim?

    Risk is pooled across all of the risk classifications, which helps keep premiums stable for all while helping those who have had a tough year. So even if an employer has an excellent safety and return-to-work program with no injury claims counting against their experience factor, their rate could go up if the rate for the risk class is increasing.

    Maintaining a safe work environment and helping injured workers heal and return to work quickly and safely does have a return on investment. When costs are lower across a risk class, all employers in the class benefit.

    Does L&I offer a discount on rates?

    Yes. L&I offers employers a Claim-Free Discount that can lower their average base rate by 10% or more.  Learn more at Lni.wa.gov/ClaimFreeDiscount.

    What can I do as an employer to reduce my rates?

    As rates are based on the risk classifications assigned and your experience factor, you can help manage your insurance claim costs which in turn may affect the experience factor. Visit Lni.wa.gov/ControlMyRates for a list of resources that L&I offers to help employers control premium costs.

    What if I need help paying my workers' comp premium?

    In times of need, L&I's Employer Assistance Program allows an employer with a good payment history to ask for a 90-day "same as cash" payment plan, with no interest or penalties. Learn more and find out if you qualify at Lni.wa.gov/EmployerAssistanceProgram.

    How have L&I's rates changed over time?

    The chart Comparison of Wage Inflation and L&I Rate Changes Over Time shows the changes in rates (circles) and wage inflation (squares) over the past 2 decades. L&I's goal is to use wage inflation as a benchmark for steady and predictable rates. Wage inflation is a good benchmark because workers' comp costs increase as wages increase.

    Why are Washington's rates based on "hours worked" rather than a "percentage of payroll," which is how all other states charge for workers' compensation premiums?

    Washington's current system, which charges premiums based on the worker's exposure to the risk of injury (hours worked), was established many years ago. This system doesn't negatively impact employers who pay higher wages.

    How financially stable are Washington's workers' comp trust funds?

    The accident, medical aid, and pension funds have enough financial assets to cover the expected benefits that will be paid over the long term to workers who have already been injured.

    Consistent with insurance principles, L&I also tries to keep additional assets (contingency reserve) above the amount of these liabilities in order to cover unexpected future events that will likely occur. Unexpected events include downturns in the economy that may affect fund investments and opportunities for workers to return to work, court decisions that may increase future benefits, or natural disasters that affect workplaces.

    L&I keeps a lower contingency reserve than other workers' compensation insurers, including other state workers' compensation funds. The private insurance industry and other state funds have, on average, a surplus of between 50% and 60% above their liabilities. As of June 30, 2021, the Washington State Fund had a contingency reserve at 29.6% of liabilities, below that of other insurers.

    What is L&I doing to control costs?

    In recent years, L&I has been providing vocational support and assistance much earlier in claims. It's helping reduce long-term disability and improving return-to-work results for those hurt on the job. The agency's Stay-at-Work Program is also making a difference, providing employers more than $100 million to help keep more than 40,000 workers on light duty while they heal.

    L&I has several initiatives underway that are lowering costs by focusing on better outcomes for injured workers. Some examples include promoting workplace safety, ensuring injured workers receive quality health care, providing vocational services to workers, and supporting employers who want to keep injured employees on a job.

    How has the increased focus on safety in the workplace affected workers' comp costs?

    Expenses associated with long-term disabilities and fatalities make up the majority of costs covered by premiums in the workers' comp system. The best way to control costs is by creating safe workplaces to avoid injuries, illness, or death.

    Inspection and consultation activities by L&I's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) make a significant contribution to reducing claim rates and costs. Studies show that employers receiving a safety inspection or safety consultation have 10 – 30% fewer claims filed by their employees.

    What is L&I doing to deter fraud and ensure employers pay their fair share of premiums?

    L&I makes employers, workers, and health care providers think twice about committing fraud. The program uses systematic and innovative approaches to detect and deter fraud and abuse.

    Last fiscal year (2020), L&I:

    • Assessed over $26 million in unpaid employer premiums plus penalties.
    • Collected a total of $216.9 million in delinquent money, of which $199.5 million came from unpaid employer premiums.
    • Audited over 2,200 employers, of which over 700 were unregistered.
    • Received nearly 4,200 employer fraud leads.
    • Completed 2,700 worker investigations of fraudulently claimed workers' compensation benefits, amounting to over $3.7 million.

    To learn more or to report fraud, visit Lni.wa.gov/Fraud.

Public hearing planned

A public hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Oct. 26 to take input on the rate proposal before a final decision is made. To support social distancing, the public hearing will be held virtually this year. Final rates will be adopted by Nov. 30 and go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

2022 rates hearing

People are encouraged to submit comments via email at JoAnne.Attwood@Lni.wa.gov or in writing to:

Jo Anne Attwood
PO Box 41448
Olympia WA 98504-4148

All comments must be received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 29.

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