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Self-Insured vs. Fully Insured Workers’ Compensation: What You Need to Know

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Self-Insured vs. Fully Insured Workers’ Compensation: What You Need to Know

Self insured vs fully insured workers compensation is a crucial decision for employers to make. It affects both financial outcomes and administrative responsibilities. Here’s a quick comparison to help you understand the choices:

  1. Fully-Insured Workers’ Compensation
  2. Less Risk: The insurance company handles the financial and legal risks.
  3. Predictability: Fixed premium payments ensure consistent costs.
  4. Administrative Ease: The insurer manages all claims and compliance.
  5. Higher Costs: You may pay more in premiums.

  6. Self-Insured Workers’ Compensation

  7. Cost Savings: Pay claims out of pocket, potentially saving money.
  8. Greater Control: Customize the plan to fit your needs.
  9. Financial Risk: You bear the burden for claims, which can be unpredictable.
  10. Administrative Complexity: Managing claims requires more effort.

Understanding these differences is key to choosing the right option for your business.

My name is Les Perlson, and I have over 40 years of experience in the insurance marketplace. Through my career, I’ve helped many businesses navigate the complexities of self insured vs fully insured workers compensation. Let’s dive deeper into each option.

Overview of Workers' Compensation Options: Fully-Insured vs. Self-Insured - self insured vs fully insured workers compensation infographic comparison-2-items-casual

What is Fully-Insured Workers’ Compensation?

Fully-insured workers’ compensation is a popular choice for many employers, especially smaller ones. In this setup, the employer pays a fixed premium to an insurance carrier. The insurance company then takes on the responsibility of handling claims and covering all related costs. This arrangement offers several benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits of Fully-Insured Workers’ Compensation

1. Less Risk

Fully-insured plans transfer the financial and legal risks to the insurance carrier. This means that if an employee files a claim, the insurance company pays for it, not the employer. This is particularly beneficial for smaller employers who may not have the financial resources to cover large, unexpected claims.

2. Administrative Ease

With fully-insured plans, the insurance company handles all the administrative tasks. This includes processing claims, selecting vendors, and ensuring compliance with state regulations. For employers, this means less paperwork and fewer headaches.

3. Financial Predictability

Employers pay a fixed premium each month, which makes budgeting easier. This financial predictability is a significant advantage for businesses that need to manage their cash flow carefully. According to Elizabeth Walker, this stability makes fully-insured plans attractive for many companies.

4. Ideal for Smaller Employers

Fully-insured plans are often the best choice for smaller employers. These companies may lack the resources to manage a self-insured plan effectively. The fixed premium and reduced administrative burden make fully-insured plans a straightforward option.

Drawbacks of Fully-Insured Workers’ Compensation

1. Higher Costs

Fully-insured plans can be more expensive. Employers pay a premium that includes administrative costs and the risk assumed by the insurance company. Over time, these premiums can add up, especially if the company has a good safety record and low claims.

2. Less Control

With fully-insured plans, the insurance company makes most of the decisions. This includes choosing vendors and handling claims. Employers have little say in these matters, which can be frustrating if the insurance company’s choices don’t align with the employer’s needs.

3. Rigid Plans

Fully-insured plans are often less flexible. Employers must choose from pre-designed plans offered by the insurance carrier. This lack of customization can be a drawback if the standard plans don’t meet the specific needs of the employer or their employees.

4. No Refunds

If the total claims are less than the premiums paid, the insurance company keeps the difference. Employers do not receive refunds or credits for low claims years. This can feel like a missed opportunity for cost savings, especially for companies with excellent safety records.

Understanding these benefits and drawbacks can help you decide if a fully-insured workers’ compensation plan is right for your business. Next, let’s explore the alternative: self-insured workers’ compensation.

What is Self-Insured Workers’ Compensation?

In a self-insured workers’ compensation plan, the employer takes on the financial risk of providing workers’ compensation benefits. Instead of paying premiums to an insurance carrier, the employer pays out-of-pocket for each claim as it arises. This approach can offer significant benefits but also comes with notable challenges.

Benefits of Self-Insured Workers’ Compensation

1. Cost Savings

One of the biggest advantages of self-insured workers’ compensation is the potential for cost savings. Employers save on premiums and only pay for actual claims. This can result in significant savings, especially for companies with a good safety record and fewer claims.

2. Improved Loss Experience

Self-insured employers often see improved loss experience. Since they directly bear the cost of claims, they have a strong incentive to implement effective safety programs and loss prevention strategies. This can lead to fewer accidents and lower overall costs.

3. Safer Workplace

With a direct financial stake in employee safety, employers are more likely to invest in creating a safer workplace. This can include better training, improved equipment, and a stronger safety culture. A safer workplace not only reduces claims but also boosts employee morale and productivity.

4. Faster Settlements

Self-insured employers can often settle claims faster. Without the need to go through an insurance carrier, decisions can be made more quickly, leading to faster payouts and less disruption for injured employees.

5. Control Over Claims

Self-insured plans offer greater control over the claims process. Employers can decide how to handle each claim, which medical providers to use, and how to manage return-to-work programs. This control can lead to more efficient and cost-effective claims management.

Drawbacks of Self-Insured Workers’ Compensation

1. Financial Risk

The most significant drawback of self-insured workers’ compensation is the financial risk. Employers must have the financial resources to cover potentially large and unpredictable claims. This can be a major challenge, especially for smaller companies.

2. Administrative Burden

Managing a self-insured plan requires significant administrative effort. Employers need to handle claims processing, compliance, and reporting, often with the help of a third-party administrator (TPA). This can be time-consuming and require specialized knowledge.

3. Unpredictable Costs

Unlike fixed premiums in fully-insured plans, costs in self-insured plans can vary widely. A year with few claims can be very cost-effective, but a year with several large claims can be financially challenging. This unpredictability can make budgeting difficult.

4. Requires Financial Resources

To be approved for a self-insured plan, employers must meet certain solvency standards and provide actuarial reports. This means having substantial financial resources and a strong balance sheet. Smaller companies may find it difficult to qualify.

Understanding these benefits and drawbacks is crucial when considering a self-insured workers’ compensation plan. Next, we will discuss self-insured groups as an alternative for those who want the benefits of self-insurance without taking on all the risk alone.

Self-Insured Groups

Self-insured groups offer a middle ground for employers who want the benefits of self-insurance but may not have the size or financial capacity to go it alone. These groups pool resources and share financial responsibility, making self-insurance accessible to more organizations.

Benefits of Self-Insured Groups

Pooling Resources

By joining a self-insured group, employers contribute to a collective pool of funds used to cover workers’ compensation claims. This pooling of resources spreads the risk among all members, reducing the financial burden on any single employer.

Shared Financial Responsibility

In a self-insured group, the financial responsibility for claims is shared. This means that the cost of a large claim doesn’t fall entirely on one company. Instead, it’s distributed across the group, making it more manageable.

Third-Party Administrators

Self-insured groups often use third-party administrators (TPAs) to handle claims and other administrative tasks. This allows employers to benefit from professional claims management without needing to build in-house expertise.

Potential Dividends

If the group’s claims are lower than expected, the surplus funds can be returned to members as dividends. This potential for financial reward is a significant incentive for employers to maintain a safe workplace and manage claims effectively.

Drawbacks of Self-Insured Groups

Financial Assessments

If the pooled funds fall short of covering claims, members may be required to pay additional assessments. This can be a financial strain, especially for smaller employers.

Group Management

Managing a self-insured group requires coordination and cooperation among members. Disagreements or mismanagement can lead to inefficiencies and increased costs.

Regulatory Approval

Not every state allows self-insured groups, and those that do require regulatory approval. This involves meeting specific solvency standards and submitting detailed actuarial reports, which can be a complex and time-consuming process.

Self-insured groups offer a way to share the benefits and risks of self-insurance. Understanding these pros and cons can help employers decide if this option is right for them. Next, we’ll compare self-insured and fully insured workers’ compensation plans to help you make an informed decision.

Comparing Self-Insured vs. Fully Insured Workers’ Compensation

Choosing between self-insured vs fully insured workers compensation can be tricky. Let’s break down the key differences to help you make an informed decision.

Cost Comparison

Fully Insured
Premium Costs: Employers pay a fixed premium to an insurance carrier.
Financial Predictability: Costs are predictable because the premium doesn’t change with the number of claims.

Out-of-Pocket Expenses: Employers pay each claim out of pocket.
Potential Savings: If claims are lower than expected, employers can save money.
Variable Costs: Monthly costs can fluctuate, making budgeting more challenging.

Risk Management

Fully Insured
Risk Transfer: The insurance company assumes the financial risk.
Less Financial Risk: Employers are protected from unexpected high costs.

Financial Risk: Employers bear the financial risk of claims.
Stop-Loss Insurance: Can be used to cap the financial risk from large claims.
Excess Insurance: Provides additional protection for catastrophic claims.

Administrative Responsibilities

Fully Insured
Claims Handling: The insurance company handles all claims and administrative tasks.
Less Administrative Work: Employers have fewer administrative duties.

In-House Management: Employers often need to handle claims themselves or hire a Third-Party Administrator (TPA).
Administrative Costs: Higher due to the need for in-house management or TPAs.
Control Over Claims: Employers have more control over how claims are handled.


Fully Insured
Rigid Plans: Limited flexibility in plan design and vendor selection.
Pre-Designed Plans: Employers choose from existing plans offered by the insurance carrier.

Plan Customization: Greater flexibility to design plans tailored to employee needs.
Vendor Selection: Employers can choose their own vendors for various services.
Claims Handling Decisions: More control over how claims are managed and settled.

Employer Size Considerations

Small Employers
Fully Insured: Often a better fit due to less financial risk and administrative burden.
Financial Resources: Smaller financial reserves make fully insured plans more attractive.

Large Employers
Self-Insured: More viable due to greater financial resources and potential for cost savings.
Regulatory Approval: Must meet solvency standards and obtain regulatory approval to self-insure.

Understanding the differences between self-insured vs fully insured workers compensation can help you choose the best option for your company. Next, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions to further clarify these options.

Frequently Asked Questions about Self-Insured vs. Fully Insured Workers’ Compensation

Can any employer operate a self-insured workers’ compensation plan?

No, not every employer can operate a self-insured workers’ compensation plan. To self-insure, employers must meet certain solvency standards and obtain regulatory approval from the state. This involves demonstrating the financial ability to cover potential claims and providing actuarial reports to support their financial stability.

Some states do not permit employers to operate self-insured plans at all. In states that do, the approval process ensures that only financially stable companies can self-insure. This helps protect employees by ensuring their claims will be paid.

How do self-insured employers protect against catastrophic claims?

Self-insured employers can face significant financial risk if claims are higher than expected. To mitigate this risk, they often purchase excess insurance or stop-loss insurance.

  • Stop-Loss Insurance: This coverage reimburses employers for claims that exceed a certain threshold. There are two types:
  • Specific Coverage: Protects against high claims from a single individual.
  • Aggregate Coverage: Protects against total claims that exceed a set limit for the entire group.

  • Financial Reserves: Employers must also maintain sufficient financial reserves to cover unexpected high-cost claims. This ensures they can pay claims even if they face a year with unusually high expenses.

What should you do if a self-insured workers’ comp claim is denied?

If your workers’ compensation claim is denied, you still have options. Both self-insured companies and third-party insurers have financial incentives to limit claims, but you have legal rights to challenge a denial.

  1. Appeal Process: Start by filing an appeal with the appropriate workers’ compensation board. Each state has its own process, so check the specific guidelines for your location.

  2. Consult a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer: A skilled lawyer can help you navigate the appeal process and ensure your rights are protected. They can provide valuable assistance in gathering evidence and presenting your case.

  3. Legal Action: While you can’t sue your employer directly in most cases, you can take legal action through the workers’ compensation system to seek a fair resolution.

Understanding your options and the protections available can help you make informed decisions about your workers’ compensation coverage. Next, we’ll delve into the advantages and disadvantages of each type of plan to help you make an informed decision.


Choosing between self-insured vs fully insured workers’ compensation is a significant decision for any employer. Each option has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, and the best choice depends on your specific circumstances.

Fully-insured plans offer predictability and reduced risk, making them ideal for smaller employers or those who prefer a hands-off approach. These plans involve paying a fixed premium to an insurance carrier, which then handles all claim-related expenses and administrative tasks. This approach provides financial stability but can be more costly and less flexible.

On the other hand, self-insured plans can lead to substantial cost savings and greater control over claims and safety programs. However, they also require a higher level of financial resources and administrative effort. This option is generally better suited for larger employers who have the capacity to manage the associated risks and responsibilities.

Self-insured groups offer a middle ground, allowing smaller employers to pool resources and share the financial risks and benefits. This can provide some of the cost-saving advantages of self-insurance while spreading the risk among multiple participants.

Making the Right Decision

When deciding between these options, consider the following factors:

  • Size of your workforce: Larger companies often benefit more from self-insurance.
  • Financial resources: Ensure you have the financial stability to cover potential claims.
  • Administrative capacity: Be prepared to handle the administrative tasks involved in self-insurance.
  • Risk tolerance: Assess your willingness to take on financial risk.

At NPA Benefits, we understand that every business has unique needs. Our personalized benefit advisors are here to help you navigate the complexities of workers’ compensation coverage. We offer expert consultation to ensure you choose the plan that best suits your organization.

Get in touch with us today to discuss your options and find the perfect balance of coverage, cost, and care for your team. Together, we can create a safer and more financially secure workplace.

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