When the American Medical Association officially classified obesity as a disease rather than a lifestyle choice in June, businesses immediately began to analyze whether this reclassification will affect workers’ compensation.
The most likely answer is, yes. Workers’ compensation will be impacted from the employer or workers’ compensation insurer’s perspective, as claim costs are expected to rise. Even before the reclassification, numerous studies indicate that obese workers are more likely to file workers’ compensation claims, had higher medical costs and took more time away from the job to recover than their healthy-weight counterparts.
With the new classification, it’s widely surmised that more doctors treating injured obese workers will seek to treat the obesity in addition to the work-related injured to attain maximum medical improvement. This may mean recommending weight-loss programs or even gastric bypass surgery, which can drive up workers’ comp costs.
From the employee perspective, the reclassification of obesity as a disease means two things. First, it means that an obese injured worker might expect to receive treatment for obesity in addition to their work-related injury if treating the obese condition would facilitate recovery from a compensable injury or if the obesity was arguably caused by a compensable injury.
Second, it may mean that any obese worker – or even a previously obese worker – filing a workers’ comp claim has to disclose his or her illness in his or her claim.
Previously, obesity went largely unreported in workers’ comp claims because it was considered a comorbidity issue not related to the compensable injury. Now, the failure to disclose obesity could theoretically result in an accusation of intentional concealment and the dismissal of the entire workers’ compensation claim.
Although there are arguments that obesity falls into the category of conditions that cannot be “concealed,” we simply don’t know at this point whether the New York Workers’ Compensation Board will consider it a part of that category or not. Obese workers should thus err on the side of caution and disclose their obesity (or former obesity) when filling out a C-3 form.