County to save thousands on worker’s compensation

Published 9:44 am Friday, May 29, 2009

County finances have not been a pleasant subject at the courthouse these days, but Lawrence County Commissioners Thursday noted one bright spot — one area where they have been able to save money — worker’s compensation.

Commissioners said changes made two years ago to curb costs are beginning to pay off.

Two years ago, the worker’s comp price tag for the entire county was $605,000. This year, that price tag will be $459,547. Only $136,447 of that will come from the county’s general fund. For instance, in 2007 the worker’s compensation bill for the Lawrence County Job and Family Services was $136,500. This year the bill is $52,000.

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“It’s one of those things that can creep up on you and cost a fortune if you don’t watch,” Commission President Jason Stephens said.

Commissioners credited commission administrator Tami Meade with leading the formation of a safety team and with working to educate other officeholders on how much worker’s comp costs the county and how to hold those expenses in line.

The safety team, made up of employees from various county offices, now regularly monitors claims and on-the-job injuries and conducts accident analyses to see if changes can be made to prevent future similar injuries.

Meade said another change that has been made is to offer transitional work as a way of keeping an injured worker on the job doing something instead of sitting at home collecting a worker’s comp check and not working at all.

While the injured workers may not be able to perform the same duties as they did when they were well, they are given lighter duties while they recuperate.

Claims are dropping: in 2006 paid claims amounted to $395,000. The next year that figure had dropped to $273,000. Last year paid claims for worker’s compensation totaled $35,000. Seven claims have been filed so far this year.

All seven claims have been for medical care only—none of the claims have included off-duty pay and only two of those seven claims are coming out of the county general fund.

Commissioner Doug Malone said taxpayers may not be able to see these changes but will benefit from them nonetheless.

“It’s an intangible move but it’s saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years,” Malone said.

Another positive move they said: a year ago, the commission began dividing up the cost of worker’s comp among each of the county offices and departments, instead of paying one lump sum.

Each office began paying their portion of their budget and those offices that had more claims began paying a larger chunk of the cost of the benefit.

Stephens said one particularly bright note in the workers comp story: At the beginning of the year the commission budgeted $50,000 more than the bill that later came for worker’s comp. This means the $50,000 not needed for this can be used in other areas of the budget.

“This is an area the county needed to get its hands around for some time,” Commissioner Les Boggs said.