Opinions

Injured workers pay price for reform

OPINION: Seemingly every decade or so, California’s workers’ compensation system is deemed to be “fixed — once and for all.” And yet, like clockwork, each subsequent round of changes to workers’ compensation brings about unintended consequences once in effect.

Such is the case with the most recent major reform law, SB 863, which was passed in the final hours of the 2012 legislative session. The law was crafted largely in secret with minimal input from those who represent injured workers, or the doctors who treat them. While some lawmakers protested that an enormous bill with major ramifications was being pushed through before they even had a chance to read the fine print, much less digest the proposed changes, politics won out in the end and the bill was signed into law.

Many injured workers prefer to have a chiropractor as their primary treating physician for a variety of reasons.  Some do not want to take drugs.  Others simply cannot take drugs for health reasons.

While the bill’s passage was heralded by some stakeholders at the time, injured workers are now paying the price. Under the law, injured workers are all but forced to use prescription drugs to treat pain because chiropractic care is cut off after just 24 visits. The compensability of certain mental conditions also is limited.

Wayne M. Whalen

Wayne M. Whalen

Last month, at a town hall hosted by Senator Jim Beall in Fresno, injured workers testified one after the other about lingering pain resulting from work injuries. While many of those who testified strongly believe a doctor of chiropractic can best help to manage their pain – rather than the use of costly, addictive prescription drugs – they are limited to just 24 chiropractic treatments under the law.

Many injured workers prefer to have a chiropractor as their primary treating physician for a variety of reasons.  Some do not want to take drugs.  Others simply cannot take drugs for health reasons. Public safety workers, such as police officers and firefighters, need a non-narcotic way to manage pain after returning to work.  Still others prefer to have someone more conservative managing their claim.  It is no surprise that every study demonstrates patient satisfaction is higher for doctors of chiropractic than for other providers, and at a much lower cost than for drugs and surgeries.

Fortunately for injured workers, Senator Beall has introduced SB 626, described by the author as “good medicine for injured workers and the state because it saves money.”

Senator Beall introduced SB 626 to enact several revisions to some of the most onerous provisions of last year’s major workers’ comp bill under SB 863. These common sense, necessary revisions to the law would correct a number of inequities.

This would permit judges to overrule IMR decisions.  This is inherently an adversarial but “no fault” system, and injured workers deserve the right to fight for what they believe to be appropriate care.

The proposed revisions would allow an injured worker to continue to have a doctor of chiropractic serve as his or her primary treating physician, remove the arbitrary and unscientific cap on physical medicine, and allow injured workers to obtain compensation for real psychiatric disabilities that are not necessarily “catastrophic.”

SB 626 would make changes to the independent medical reviews (IMR) system, to require doctors to have the same license type as the requesting doctor, be licensed in California, and removes the anonymity provisions of SB 863.

Finally, SB 626 would restore judicial oversight.  This would permit judges to overrule IMR decisions.  This is inherently an adversarial but “no fault” system, and injured workers deserve the right to fight for what they believe to be appropriate care.

The removal of doctors of chiropractic as treating physicians is blatantly discriminatory against injured workers who prefer to receive their care from a doctor of chiropractic. That is why California’s chiropractors stand in support of the injured workers we treat – and those who are now being denied treatment – in urging passage of SB 626.

Ed’s Note: Dr. Wayne Whalen is a chiropractic neurologist in Santee and a past president of the California Chiropractic Association.


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