Workers Compensation Adventures from the Last Frontier, part 4: Size Matters!

Editor’s note: This is the final entry in a four-part series about Crawford & Company’s claims adjusting work in Alaska submitted by Rose Etheridge, senior claims examiner for Broadspire® in Anchorage, Alaska.

alaska mapAlaska is approximately 586,412 square miles, comprised of 47,300 miles of coastline and over three million lakes. With over half of the villages and towns not accessible by roads, transportation can be a logistical nightmare. With all of this space, getting injured workers to the appropriate medical facility can be expensive and challenging.

Emergency transportation between the North Slope (on the map at left, northern Minnesota) and the nearest fully equipped hospital is in Anchorage (southern Missouri). An emergency life flight on average is $56,000.

Injured workers in Dutch Harbor (Southern California) would have to also travel to Anchorage for emergency treatment, and that life flight usually comes in at $74,000.

To address the vast area that needs to be covered by workers compensation, the Alaska Workers Compensation Board is broken down into three offices: Juneau (the capital), Anchorage and Fairbanks. Where an injury occurs determines which state office handles the claim. Interestingly enough, although we are all using the same statutes and regulations, each state office and its associated Board members can have different interpretations of case law and how the statutes are applied to certain cases. Due to the differences in each Board, assessing the overall exposure of a claim and potential settlement options can be very interesting.

alaska map 2Alaska statutes have taken into account logistics when it comes to medical treatment. We are only obligated to reimburse travel expenses to the nearest treating provider/facility. For example, an employee in Fairbanks can certainly fly to Anchorage to seek treatment with an orthopedist, but we would only reimburse him for the mileage it took to see the doctor in his own home town.  Many of the smaller communities in Alaska do not have orthopedists, hospitals or physical therapists. Some employees have to travel 50 to 110 miles one way just to attend an appointment.

In the winter, when road conditions deteriorate it is not uncommon to cover the cost of a hotel for injured workers because driving back home the same day (four hours each way) is dangerous. As adjusters we often have to weigh the difference between flying an employee to an appointment versus paying for them to drive, as there are real risks involved with icy roads and winter darkness (remember in the winter we may only get six hours of daylight).

Regardless of whether or not you travel by commercial flight, float plane, car or ferry, logistically Alaska is fascinating state to work in.

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