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Staying alive on workers’ comp

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Posted: 10 am ET

Life insurance, health insurance and homeowners insurance companies aren't the only ones growing impatient with America's anemic jobs picture. Insurers that cover work-related injuries also are feeling the pinch as more Americans linger longer on workers' compensation.

According to Reuters, at least one workers' comp specialist, SeaBright, added to reserves last year because of higher medical costs and longer claims in California.

"SeaBright is a very clear warning sign to investors that there could be some negative surprises in this space," James Ellman, president of San Francisco-based investment manager Seacliff Capital told Reuters. "It is an industry where losses are going up and this, unfortunately, happens when you get a recession."

One might expect just the opposite; that is, with fewer workers to be injured, there should be fewer workers' comp claims. And in fact workers' comp claims did fall by 4 percent in 2009, and were expected to fall again in 2010.

The problem for insurers is, fewer workers means fewer premiums. The decreased demand has spurred greater competition among insurers, resulting in a downward effect on premium rates.

And as companies trim their ranks and consolidate jobs to ride out the recession, there are fewer return-to-work opportunities for injured workers, so they're staying on workers' comp longer.

What's your take? Have you or a co-worker collected workers' comp for want of an early-return option with your employer? Have you noticed fellow workers lingering longer than usual on workers' comp?

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