Why do Work Comp Rates Vary from state to state?

Citizens of the United States enjoy a very high quality of life. According to a 2016 Business Insider Article, Americans enjoyed the 9th highest quality of life of any country in the world. Workers’ compensation coverage is a huge contributing factor to this quality of life. A strong workers’ compensation system provides the ‘exclusive remedy’ that helps prevent litigation between employers and employees when accidents happen on the job. When a strong Workers’ Compensation System is in place, employees are guaranteed some wage replacement while hurt and not able to work. Employees also receive payment for all medical expenses as a result of injuries that occur as a part of normal business operations. In turn, employers can rest easy knowing they will not be held liable for employee injuries, except in circumstances where the employer intended to cause the injury or was willfully negligent.

Work Comp Rates

In the United States, Workers Comp Laws are left up to the state governments. In most states, employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. There are a few exceptions to that rule, but for the most part all employers are required to carry some baseline coverage to protect their injured workers.  There are many things a state government must do to administer a workers compensation system. The two main things states do that can effect price are; determine a process for assigning rates on industry class codes and provide employers with a provider of last resort (state fund or assigned risk provider).

Provider of Last Resort

Rates can be strongly impacted by the strength of the provider of last resort. This is frequently referred to as the state fund or the assigned risk provider. The assigned risk provider is offered to employers who cannot find a carrier to offer them coverage on the open market.  The business may not be able to find coverage on the open market because of their past claims history or because they operate in a high risk industry.  How well the state goes about setting up this relationship goes a long way towards determining the rates employers pay for coverage in that state.

There are three main ways states go about providing this service.

  • State provided fund
  • Public-Private Partnership
  • Partner with an outside agency

The Workers’ Compensation Fund of Utah (WCF) and The California State Compensation Insurance Fund (CSCIF) are two examples of states who provide their own fund. These two states area good comparisons to show how rates are affected by either a strong or weak state fund. In Utah, The WCF has a 57 percent market share while the next largest provider owns only a 3 percent share of the market (2). In comparison, The CSCIF controls just over 11 percent of the market compared to just under 10 percent for the next largest provider. As a result, Utah has workers comp rates that are 107 percent cheaper compared to California. This is not the only contributing factor to the discrepancy in prices, but it goes to show how drastic an impact a strong state fund can have. Now in California’s defense, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Utah is nearly 1.7 trillion dollars less than California (2). That is another huge factor driving up prices in California.

 

Another factor impacting rates on workers’ compensation insurance is how a state goes about determining rates on all the different industry classification codes. There are two ways states can go about providing this service. They can provide their own rating bureau or they can partner with an outside agency to do this in-depth work. Most states partner with the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) for determining rates on class codes. A few states have an organization that is part of the state government who determine rates.

Determining Rates on Class Codes

New York and Arkansas are two contrasting states that are a good example for how these different approaches can effect the rates on workers comp coverage. New York has its own bureau, The New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board (NYCIRB) while Arkansas outsources these duties to NCCI. As of 2014 Arkansas has rates on Workers Comp Coverage that are 90 percent cheaper than those rates in New York. Now again in defense of New York, it does have a GDP that is just under a trillion dollars more than Arkansas. That is a strong factor contributing to higher rates, but so is the fact that New York does not use NCCI to determine rates. Typically states who have their own bureau have higher rates across the board. In most cases, NCCI is better at doing this task than the states are themselves. The one exception to this is the state of Indiana. Indiana has their own state rating bureau, but enjoys some of the lowest rates on workers comp in the country.

In both of these examples the larger states have different ways of going about administering their workers compensation policies. These different ways contribute to escalating rates on workers’ compensation insurance. Now part of the reason for them doing things differently might be the vast size of the economies in these state’s. They may not be able to outsource this job for an economy in the trillions of dollars where as another state may be able to outsource more easily because their economy only amounts to 100 billion. Both of these examples do show how the strength of the state fund and how efficiently a state determines rates can drastically effect the amount employers pay for workers comp coverage.

These factors are two of many factors that can have a huge impact on rates employers pay for workers comp coverage. This is why it is immensely important to consult with an insurance industry professional when quoting a policy. It is also important to quote with agencies who have access to many different insurance carriers within your state. The more carriers your agent can get a quote from, the more likely your businesses is to get more comprehensive coverage and lower rates on premium.

How Competitive Workers Compensation Rates Develop

Workers compensation rates are developed by claims and premium paid within each industry, per state over a period of multiple years.  In most sections of the U.S., each State sets a minimum and maximum rate for each industry code.  Within the minimum and maximum rates established by the state competitive insurance companies are able to file their rates for each industry depending on how competitive they want to be.  Depending on the characteristics of a particular business, insurance companies could be willing to discount or increase their rates.  Each state also sets a minimum and maximum amount of credit or debit an insurance company can use when quoting.  When researching rates, lower rates indicate an industry that is less likely to suffer a claim and higher rated industry codes indicate a higher risk of a claim.  The lower hazard industries have more options therefore more competition than the higher hazard industries.  More competition typically means those industry types are going to pay considerably less than a higher risk industry with only a few options willing to quote.

Identify the areas that cause the greatest concern for workplace injuries.  Business owners in all industries can increase their chances of paying the lowest workers compensation rates by implementing proper policy and procedures to prevent claims.  Which policy and procedures to implement will not be the same for all industries.  A restaurant would have different exposures that could cause a claim than a remodeling contractor.  When quoting your business, make sure you highlight the areas that your business has implemented that prevents claims.  Brag about the areas that make your business different than other businesses in the same industry.  In my opinion, most business owners and agents are focused on which insurance company has the lowest rate.  Instead, the business owner and agent needs to tell the story of that business and the components of that business that make it attractive to insure.  Just because an insurance company has one of the lowest rates for a particular industry doesn’t mean they are the most competitive option.  Insurance companies that are willing to apply credits/discounts based on business practices to prevent claims will typically be the most competitive options.  If your agent is not asking about your business practices, they are not properly selling to their underwriters to get the best possible pricing.  Below is a short list of ways a business owner can help reduce their workers’ compensation costs.  These are the things that insurance company underwriters want to know about in order to properly price their quote.

  • Business owner is active within the business. When a business owner is active and around employees, typically those employees follow the policies and procedures more carefully.
  • Proper training of how to handle situations that could cause workers comp claims. If you own a convenience store, how should employees handle a robbery?
  • Return to Work Program. History shows that the sooner a business owner can return the injured employee to work the less expensive the claim will be.  Even if you have to create a light-duty position temporarily.
  • Establish a safety program and enforce discipline for not following proper procedures.  This can positively impact your workers compensation rates.
  • Conduct safety meetings. Constantly reinforcing helps prevent injuries.
  • Employee Training for the job they are performing, equipment they are using.
  • Designate Key Employees to be responsible for holding employees to the standards of your business
  • Update your equipment when needed, make sure it has the proper guarding to prevent injuries.