$40 For An Ice Pack? Workers' Comp System Comes Under Review

May 22, 2014

A report comparing workers comp costs finds the average cost for an MRI in New Hampshire is $932, while the regional average is $699 and the national rate is $552.
Credit Rosie O'Beirn via Flickr CC

Governor Hassan is creating a task force to study ways to improve the state’s workers’ compensation system.

The move comes on the heels of a new report that finds worker compensation costs in New Hampshire are well above regional and national averages.

“As workers’ compensation medical payments soar higher for Granite State businesses, New Hampshire has become one of the most expensive states in the nation for workers’ compensation,” Hassan said in a statement. “Employers and workers have done their part to increase workplace safety, but high workers’ compensation costs remain a burden on our businesses.”

The report, released Thursday, looks at some of the most common medical procedures covered by the system.

It finds that the average cost for an MRI in New Hampshire is $932, while the regional average is $699 and the national rate is $552.

Medical providers in the state charge $40 for an ice pack, nearly three times the countrywide benchmark.

Deb Stone, an actuary with the Insurance Department, says the report should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers.

“I’m not trying to say we are in a crisis right now, but I am trying to say, let’s address it before it starts down the road to a crisis” says Stone.

Dr. Gary Woods, past president of the N.H. Medical Society, cautions that this data doesn’t include quality measures. He also says that if higher-cost care is getting employees back to work sooner, it may not be such a bad thing.

“The cost may be up, but are you getting more value for your dollar? We don’t know that yet,” Woods says.

Currently, 45 states cap what providers can charge for medical care delivered through the workers’ compensation system, often tying the rate to Medicare.

Legislation to pursue that type of model in New Hampshire has been voted down in recent years. A bill to study the issue was killed earlier this month.

There were an estimated $180 million in workers’ compensation medical claims filed last year in New Hampshire. The number of claims has fallen in recent years, but Stone says that’s likely due to a slow economy rather than decreasing medical costs.

The task force will include workers, businesses, insurers and health care providers. Hassan says the goal is to reform the system “in order to reduce costs for our workers and businesses and to support their efforts to keep our economy moving forward.”