L&I Proposes Moderate Increase in Workers’ Comp Rates for 2023

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is proposing a 4.8% increase in the average price employers and workers pay for workers' compensation insurance next year. If adopted, the increase would mean employers and workers would jointly pay an additional $61 a year, on average, for each full-time employee within a business.

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.

General wage inflation and increasing medical costs all make it more expensive to provide this workplace safety net. As workers' wages go up, the cost of insuring them goes up as well, since much of the benefits directly paid to workers are tied to how much they are getting paid.

Under the current proposal, L&I will use contingency reserves to cover any gap between premiums and costs to keep rates steady and avoid a larger increase.

Questions About the Proposed 2023 Premium Rates

    Why has L&I proposed a 4.8% increase for 2023?

    L&I attributes the proposed increase to several factors, including wage inflation and medical costs. L&I will tap the contingency reserves to pay costs that are expected to exceed the rate 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 down.

    How did L&I account for COVID-19 in the rate-making process for 2023?

    The costs of coronavirus-related workers' comp claims were not included in the calculations to determine the proposed rate increase for 2023.

    Why are rates for many employers different from the proposed 4.8% increase?

    The proposed 4.8% increase is an average. Individual employers may see their rates go up or down, depending on their recent claims history and changes in the number and cost of claims within their industry. 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 rate increase cost employers and workers?

    The proposed 2023 increase will cost employers and workers an average of about $61 a year per employee. Of the increased amount, workers will pay about $12 on average.

    What percent of the premiums do workers pay?

    Workers pay on average about 25% of the premium, a similar percentage to that paid in 2022. Washington is the only state where workers pay a significant portion of the premium.

    The total rate is paid into four funds that provide benefits when workers are hurt on the job:

    • The accident rate, which pays for time-loss 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, and supplemental pension premiums. Employers pay all the accident fund premiums.

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

    Out of the state's 325 risk classes, 286 will have higher base rates in 2023 if the proposed changes are adopted.

    The supplemental pension rate is increasing 7% to nearly 17 cents per hour. This fund pays cost-of-living adjustments for long-term time-loss and pension recipients and is based on wage inflation. For many of the less expensive 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 may my rates go up if I haven't had a claim?

    Risk is pooled across all employers in a risk class, which helps keep premiums stable 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 increases.

    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?

    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.

    In most states, rates are charged as a percentage of payroll, so when employee wages go up, more premium is collected. In Washington, rates are charged as an amount per hour. When wages go up, the rate paid stays the same.

    When looking at rates as a percentage of overall payroll, rates in Washington have gone down from 2012 to 2022. If the proposed rate increase is adopted, the average rate per $100 of payroll in 2023 will be $1.49, about what it was in 2021 and 2022. Workers will continue to pay on average about a quarter of the premium, a similar percentage to that paid in 2022.

    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. Based on preliminary June 30, 2022, data, the Washington State Fund had a contingency reserve at 27% of liabilities.

    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. Our Stay-at-Work Program is also making a difference, providing employers more than $100 million to help keep more than 40,000 employees 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 (2021), L&I:

    • Assessed over $17 million in unpaid employer premiums plus penalties.
    • Collected a total of $293.1 million in delinquent money, of which $275.1 million came from unpaid employer premiums.
    • Audited over 1,800 employers, of which over 700 were unregistered.
    • Received nearly 4,200 employer fraud leads.
    • Completed 48 worker investigations of fraudulently claimed workers' compensation benefits, amounting to over $1.2 million.

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

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