Tag Archives: medicine

Opioids And Doctor Choice

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said in 2008 that “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” In the context of opioids and workers compensation this could mean reforms to workers compensation systems beyond drug formularies If solving the opioid crisis means limiting the number of doctors who can prescribe opioids, then there will be fewer doctors who will treat workers compensation cases.

Additional licensure and certifications aren’t unheard of in the world of occupational health. In 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration implemented a new rule that only doctors on their registry can perform DOT Physical Examinations for truckers and other professional drivers. This reduced the number of doctors who can perform those examinations. 

When I testified on LB 408, a bill that would have implemented drug formularies for opioids under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act, some doctors were testifying that there was little training in regards to prescribing opioids. Though an opioid prescription registry like the DOT examination registry wasn’t proposed, you could certainly see it proposed as a solution to the opioid problem.

By limiting the numbers of doctor who handle workers’ compensation claims through additional licensing requirements, injured employees will have fewer choices for medical treatment and are more likely to have their employer control their care.

Evidence shows that the workers compensation system has made some contribution to the opioid crisis. According to a 2015 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics over 3.5 million employees were injured at work. Half of those injuries required the employee to miss sometime from work. A study of employees in 25 states done by the Workers Compensation Research Institute revealed that 55 to 85 percent of employees who missed at least one week of work were prescribed at least one opioid prescription.

When I testified on LB 408 the consensus among the doctors testifying on the legislation was that injured workers were more vulnerable to narcotic addiction than other patients who are prescribed narcotic pain medication. Scientific studies give some credence to these conclusions. Workers compensation claims can cause economic insecurity. According to an article in Scientific America, Addiction rates for opioids are 3.4 times higher for those with incomes under $20,000 per year than they are for employees making more than 50,000 per year.

But that article also shared studies that state that pain pill prescriptions are not driving the opioid epidemic. Patients with pre-existing addiction issues are more likely to become addicted to opioids and 75 percent of those who develop opioids start taking opioids in a non-prescribed manner. Furthermore, only 12 to 13 percent of ER patients who are treated for opioid overdoses are chronic pain patients.

Workers’ Compensation is traditionally an area of the law that is controlled by the states. Regulation of drugs is generally an area reserved for the federal government. Any laws imposing additional hurdles or requirements upon doctors who prescribe opioid drugs may have to come from the federal government.

What Medical Expenses Are Covered In A Workers’ Compensation Case?

Today’s post comes from guest author Roger Moore, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

In Nebraska and Iowa, as is the general rule, an employer is liable for all reasonable medical services incurred as a result of a work injury. This is interpreted fairly broadly to include plastic or reconstructive surgery, prosthetic devices, and medicines, among other treatments. As long as the treatment is designed to relieve pain or promote and hasten the employee’s restoration to health and employment, the employer is liable. When a treatment meets these conditions, an injured worker should not be responsible for any portion of the medical bill.

The main difference is in Nebraska, as long as the worker elects a prior treating doctor to treat their injury (for example, the worker’s family doctor), that doctor can dictate the medical care and refer them to others for treatment. If no election is made, then like in Iowa, the employer can choose the doctor to treat a work injury as long as the employer accepts compensability for that injury. However, in Iowa, if the worker can establish that the medical care furnished is unreasonable, then the worker can choose another medical provider.  In both states, if a claim for a work injury is denied, the worker can choose their own doctors to treat with.

If no Petition is filed in Nebraska, an employer continues to be responsible for medical care as long as there is less than a two-year gap in the payment of a medical bill by the employer or insurance company or the payment of temporary or permanent benefits to the injured worker. Also, if the Court enters an order finding the injured worker entitled to future medical care, there is technically no time limit for seeking medical care.

In Iowa, medical benefits cannot be used to extend the deadline to file a claim for benefits. There is no time limitation in seeking medical care relating to an injury either before or after an Award for benefits.

However, in practical terms, large gaps in treatment will likely be met with skepticism from the employer – and possibly the Court – concerning the relationship between the work injury and the medical care. We recommend you seek consistent medical care where there is a need for it to avoid such issues.