Premiums for worker compensation insurance in Maryland will be increased nearly 25 percent on Jan. 1 under an order announced yesterday by State Insurance Commissioner Edward Birrane Jr.
For some 65,000 private employers in the state, the boost will mean an overall increase in annual insurance bills of more than $30 million.
Employers in Maryland are not alone in facing soaring workmen's compensation premiums, however. Rates in the District were increased twice this year and, in Virginia, premiums also were boosted recently.
Last week, the Alliance of American Insurers warned a Senate Labor subcommittee that spirating worker compensation costs could lead to a crisis of affordability that is similar to medical malpractice and products liability lines.
At the same time, sponsors plant to push for enactment next year of legislation to establish federal standards for worker compensation - step that could push insurance premiums even higher to cover increased costs of meeting federal compensation standards in many states.
In the Maryland case decided yesterday the National Council on Compensation Insurance had asked last Dec. 14 for the overall increase of 24.6 percent in annual rates. The council represents companies that sell worker compensation insurance in various state rate proceedings.
In a letter to the council, Birrane said yesterday that last December's proposed increase "would have produced rates that were excessive if placed into effect at the time originally requested."
Birrane also turned down the insurance companies' request for a retroactive rate increase. But the proposed premium boosts could take effect on Jan. 1 because "subsequent inflationary factors and latest statistics indicate that the proposed rates will not be excessive for use in the future," he said.
Specifically, premium rates will be increased 16.7 percent for manufacturing companies, 34.4 percent for other employment sectors.
Most of the higher premium costs can be traced to an automatic increase in maximum weekly benefits received by private employees injured on the job. The rate in Maryland is about $200 a week compared with less than $100 in 1973. Private employers in Maryland paid $121 million for worker compensation premiums in 1975 the last year for which figures are available.
States now have authority to establish worker compensation benefits. The average maximum weekly benefit in Virginia is $175 (compared with S62 in 1973), while the District's rate has soared to $367 from $167 five years ago. D.C. compensation rates are governed by an act of Congress that also covers the nation's long-shoremen and harbor workers, the act includes an automatic escalator clause.
The premium rates for D.C. employers were increased by 12.7 percent last January (the industry proposed 19.1 percent) and 18.8 percent on July 1 (the industry asked for 33 percent). In Virginia, premium rates were increased by about 23 percent during the summer.
Because of concern about soaring worker compensation insurance premiums, a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee is directing studies to determine the causes and make recommendations for action in the legislature next year.
An industry trade group. Alliance of American Insurers, contends that benefit increases have exceeded average weekly wage increases as well as the consumer price index. Reforms are necessary in the states to correct abuses in the distribution of compensation benefits the insurers said last week.
The insurance group has said that some workers earn more staying at home than on the job because benefits are tax free and often tied to cost-of-living escalator clauses. Other workers get lifetime benefits from alleged permanent injuries and take other jobs.
Senate Human Resources Chairman Harrison Williams (D-N.J.) and Sen. Jacob Javits (RN.Y.) have proposed federally-mandated worker compensation standards. Occupational disease coverage would be provided, and the minimum weekly compensation benefits would be 66 2/3 percent of the affected workers' average weekly wage.