As we start a new year and put 2020 behind us, let’s pause to consider what the future may hold for North Carolina workers’ compensation claims. Here is our list of Top 3 Hot Topics for 2021:
Right up there with “facemasks” and “social distancing,” the term “telehealth” will be a trending buzzword in 2021. As workers are confined to their homes during the pandemic, and as medical facilities limit visitors, more and more patients are receiving medical treatment through virtual visits. The North Carolina rules and fee schedule have kept up remarkably well, more often than not allowing for provider reimbursements for telehealth visits.
Some argue, though, that telehealth visits may increase the likelihood of malingering and symptom magnification since doctors miss out on the face-to-face interactions while assessing patient symptoms and pain tolerance. Plus, as the danger of in-person visits wanes, we suspect that many patients will try to continue receiving care through telehealth in situations where in-person visits would yield a shorter healing period and a quicker return to work. This is one area it is worth keeping an eye on in 2021.
- Worker Classifications
The classification of workers as independent contractors or employees is always at the forefront of workers’ compensation discussions since true independent contractors are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for injury or disease. In North Carolina, the right to benefits is dictated not by federal labor laws but by the Workers’ Compensation Act and interpreting cases.
Of note, California passed a law in 2020 that dramatically changes the classification standard, basically creating a presumption that all workers are true employees unless the employer can satisfy a certain high-burden test. Nationwide, interest groups have lobbied to apply the California standard to other states, and in particular to the trucking and rideshare industries, where employment arrangements are notoriously nebulous. We will be monitoring this issue closely as it could make its way to North Carolina in 2021.
- Questionable Claims
No fancy statistics necessary here – when unemployment and poverty rise, so do questionable workers’ compensation claims. Although the most recent stimulus package may temporarily relieve some financial pressure of struggling families, if the economy continues to weaken, we expect to see a rise in meritless claims or exaggerated symptoms. We recommend adjusters and claims handlers pay particular attention to claims filed by new employees with discipline problems and employees with other outside activities which may have caused injury.
We at Anders Newton will continue to monitor workers’ compensation law changes and trends. As always, we are available for consultation any time at 919-516-8400.