The cost of employee compensation insurance for Massachusetts employers could rise dramatically later this year if rates proposed by insurers are approved by state regulators.
The Workers’ Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau of Massachusetts, which represents companies that write workers’ compensation polices, asked the state to approve an average rate increase of 19.3 percent. Most businesses are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which covers the medical treatment, rehabilitation, and lost wages of employees injured on the job.
If approved, the rates would go into effect in September.
The substantial increase is necessary, the bureau said, because the cost of claims continues to rise, but the state has denied smaller requests in three of the past four years. The Division of Insurance rejected proposed increases of 2.3 percent increase in 2008, 4.5 percent increase in 2010, and a 6.6 percent increase in 2011.
“If these three small increases in rates had been granted by the Commonwealth,’’ said Paul Meagher, president of the Workers’ Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau of Massachusetts, “we would not need such a significant rate increase now.’’
Richard C. Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state’s largest employers’ group, said yesterday in a blog post that the rate request deserves consideration. He said he is concerned that without an increase, fewer companies will offer the insurance, making it harder for businesses to buy policies.
“Private-market coverage is harder to come by because the economics of workers compensation no longer add up for insurers,’’ Lord wrote. “The growing disconnect between costs and premiums has already prompted several insurance companies to scale back their activity in Massachusetts.’’
Massachusetts once had some of the highest worker compensation costs in the country, but following reforms in 1991, those costs have declined steadily, falling by two-thirds over the past 20 years. If a premium cost $100 in 1991, the current rate would be $33.21. If the new rate request is approved, that premium would rise to $39.62, according to the Workers’ Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau of Massachusetts.
The bureau said insurers need the increase to cover the rising costs of health care and wage replacement, driven by higher salaries and the longer leaves that claimants are taking. The number of claims has declined, but not fast enough to offset the increases in medical and wage replacement costs, the bureau said.
“While we recognize that the current filing calls for a significant rate increase, it reflects the real costs of providing this kind of insurance,’’ said Meagher. “Without a rate increase, we will be unable to maintain a competitive market for workers’ compensation insurance in Massachusetts.’’
The proposed rates will be examined in hearings held by Joseph G. Murphy, the state insurance commissioner. Murphy said yesterday that his office intends to “take a long, hard look at the process. This is a large increase, and this administration is particularly sensitive to the cost of doing business in the state.’’
Murphy said he expects to schedule a public hearing by the end of March.