All posts by Richard Filippone, Ph.D.

Workers’ Comp State Laws Can Lead To Depression For Injured Workers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Consumer Price Index calculator, what you bought for $100 in 1973 would today cost $533.82. Despite this, during that same period wage growth for the median hourly worker grew by less that 4%. 

That’s how yesterday’s Workers’ Comp Insider’s blog post begins. Fifty States, Fifty Different Laws underscores the sobering reality that many hourly workers in America live perilously close the edge of the financial cliff, one crisis away from homelessness.

The Insider’s post analyzes “The Uncompensated Worker,” a Special Report from WorkCompCentral’s Peter Rousmaniere. The highly readable, but detailed, report illustrates how workers in every state take a pay cut when injured and out of work. Because all state laws are different, the pay cut can be minimal in a few states and catastrophic in many others.

At Workers Compensation Psychological Network, we see workers who, in addition to struggling to recover from a work injury, are also walking on the edge of an economic razor blade. These workers are deeply fearful that their injuries might lead to their families being forced to bunk under a bridge. Mr. Rousmaniere’s report shows that even short-term injuries can lead to deprivation. For instance, a 50-state chart at the end of the report shows that if an injured worker incurs only a brief disability – say, three, six or ten days – some of the provisions of New Jersey’s workers’ comp law (the calendar days waiting period before indemnity can begin, for example), will force a pay cut of 28% for that period.

As psychologists and neuropsychologists, we are mindful that helping these vulnerable people return to work as quickly as medically possible could spell the difference between financial stability and financial disaster. The mental health benefits of such an outcome are, quite frankly, immeasurable.

That’s why our overarching goal is now and always will be Recovery: Sooner, Faster, Smarter. 

There Is A Need For Better Psychosocial Intervention In Workers’ Compensation

This morning, Workers Comp Insider, the Grand Daddy of workers’ compensation blogs, published an illuminating post focusing on why workers’ comp claims professionals wait far too long to engage qualified psychologists.  This, from the opening of Are We Only Paying Lip Service To Psychosocial Issues In Workers’ Compensation?:

It is a cliché in the workers’ comp industry that claims adjusters never want “to buy a psych claim.” Perhaps that’s why they rarely resort to psychologists until the horse is out of the barn and grazing four pastures over. By then it’s a last resort kind of thing.

The Insider goes on to say that claims payers and psychologists just don’t understand each other. It chides those claims adjusters who settle for asking only the basic questions suggesting that “digging deep” and

peeling the injured person’s personality onion to discover what really matters will allow for early detection of those relatively rare cases where speedy referral to a qualified psychologist might make all the difference.

We couldn’t agree more, yet lest we with the PH. D.s after our names begin to feel too comfortable, we come in for some sharp criticism, too. Most of us “know not even the first thing about workers’ compensation and give every indication of being proud of it.” Ouch.

The blog post suggests that we and the payers need to come together to build a system that works for everyone and that if claims adjusters are attuned to the subtle nuance inherent in a good conversation with an injured person, then perhaps certain signs will become apparent that indicate early psychological intervention is warranted.

Part of that coming together requires trust on both sides. The Insider suggests that a sign of trust on the side of the payers would be to adopt a  policy that “entrance into a payer network should not be determined solely by a license to practice and the forced acceptance of a ridiculously low fee. Quality and results matter.”

Finally, the post tells payers that they have a whole lot of educating to do, education that should start today. Why?

Because identifying early and resolving quickly the factors that have the potential to turn physical injuries into mental health problems will save employers, the folks who pay the bills, a significant amount of money and adjusters, whose goal it is to put the toothpaste back in the tube, considerable otherwise wasted time.

That, in a nutshell, is why we created Workers Compensation Psychological Network. To partner with payers for the betterment of injured workers to build a better system – Sooner, Faster, Smarter.

Neuropsychological Testing reports – What they should be saying about injured workers!

As a neuropsychologist with over 37 years of neuropsychological testing experience I have a keen appreciation for the time and cost of neuropsychological testing. A key question to me is what value does this expensive assessment have to the injured worker or to his payor of medical services?

In answering this question I am reminded of a case several years ago as Clinical Director of Cambridge Rehabilitation Services. Called on to consult by a private disability insurance carrier, this man had been a top salesman in New Jersey for a national company for many years. Unfortunately he suffered a brain injury from which he physically recovered but left him with mild cognitive impairments. The referral included his medical reports and a Neuropsychological Test report. This report was not from a local neuropsychologist but by a leading expert from New York. The expert, well published and a professor, made many correct observations and conclusions about my patient.   However, it was my belief that the report missed the mark on informing his disability insurance carrier about his rehabilitation potential in terms of return to work.

I went over the test data and concluded that the expert, retained by claimant’s attorney on behalf in his disability claim, presented a very static view of his capabilities.   As with many Neuropsychological Test reports I have reviewed over the years, several critical work related questions went unaddressed. The expert simply opined the claimant had suffered cognitive impairments and that returning to his job “as is” was not possible. With the simple “yes he is disabled” conclusion, a disability “payout” was inevitable with this report in hand.

After an interview with the claimant, I imagined a very different outcome for him, one that he was eventually very pleased with in the long term.

My report to his insurance carrier pointed out several missing factors left unaddressed in the prior report.

  • Job related cognitive limitations – The specific cognitive changes causing his loss of work functions
  • Potential benefits of rehabilitation efforts– the specific interventions and their projected benefits to improving his work product
  • Emotional and motivational factors– the personality factors which could be tapped into and leveraged to assist him in perservering with a rehabilitation program that would assist him in accepting personal changes
  • A specific time line for return to work and projected costs– a detailed outline of the time and cost of the rehabilitative efforts.

His insurance carrier offered him our cognitive rehabilitation program in lieu of a full and permanent disability payout, with the option of the payout if the program failed. He chose the rehab offer.

Our team of a neuropsychologist, speech pathologist and cognitive therapist went to work on an intensive basis with interventions in his work environment itself. Remediation efforts attacked his critical cognitive weaknesses that blocked him from success and within 3 months he returned to work. While his work output was still diminished (after all he had been national top salesman for several years, allowing quite a bit of leeway), he was happy he could see himself successful earning a living, competing in the workplace as he always had.

The full cost of our cognitive rehab program was less than 4 months of the disability payments that would have been paid to him had our interventions not been successful! A net win-win for all.