Articles Posted in Medical Benefits

As we mentioned before, both of the partners of Brilliant & Neiman LLC, Dina Brilliant and Glenn Neiman, were invited to appear on a television show hosted by Injured Workers of Pennsylvania. This show was aired live on August 19, 2013, and broadcast throughout the Berks County region of PA. The website for Berks County Television has a copy of the show in its archives, and it can be viewed on the internet by clicking here.

We at Brilliant & Neiman LLC thank Injured Workers of Pennsylvania for giving us this opportunity to speak to the public on issues regarding workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania. The primary topic was the status of House Bill 1636, which would eliminate choice of doctor for all injured workers in Pennsylvania. One of the jobs we, as attorneys representing injured workers, have is to educate the public, so injured workers know their rights under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.

As we mentioned previously, the Pennsylvania Legislature is planning another attack on injured workers in PA in 2013. This notion has now taken the form of House Bill 1636, which seeks to forever deny injured workers in PA the right to select their own physician.

Under the current provisions of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, if an employer follows the correct procedures and posts a proper list of at least six health care providers (at least three of which must be physicians), then the employer is only responsible for payment of medical treatment with the listed panel providers for the first 90 days of the injury.

If this Bill becomes law, however, an employer may list as few as a single Coordinated Care Organization (CCO) on a panel. Then, the injured worker would have to treat with this single organization, not for the first 90 days, but for the entire duration of the injury. That’s right – the legislature seeks to deny injured workers in PA from ever getting to select their own physicians.

Through the efforts of concerned citizens, and attorney groups united to support injured people, such as the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, there has been no legislation really harmful to the injured workers in Pennsylvania passed since 1996. Unfortunately, it appears there is now a new threat on the horizon, and we call on every injured person, and anyone who cares about the injured worker in PA, to make their concerns known to their State Representatives and State Senators.

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce has a new “wish list” for the reform of the workers’ compensation system in PA. The changes desired by the Chamber primarily impact the medical providers, rather than the injured workers directly. Obviously, however, this will impact the injured worker by narrowing the treatment options open to injured workers in Pennsylvania, and generally add another layer of difficulty to what is already a minefield for those unfamiliar with the process.

One of the primary changes that the PA Chamber of Commerce would have made is to increase the time an injured worker in PA is required to treat with a company “doctor” from 90 days to 180 days. Any injured worker who has experienced substandard medical care in those first 90 days, or the difficulties of having a medical provider more concerned with a return to work than a cure, understands the significance of this expansion. No mention was made by the Chamber of the developing practice we are seeing where the injured worker is stuck with a nurse practitioner for that captive period, effectively denying the injured worker from even being evaluated by a medical doctor.

On many occasions over the years, we have addressed the Utilization Review (UR) process in Pennsylvania workers’ compensation cases. This is the process either party, usually the workers’ comp insurance carrier, uses to obtain a determination as to whether a treatment at issue is “reasonable and necessary” such that the insurance company must pay for the treatment.

What is sometimes lost in this abstract analysis is the impact a UR has on real live people. When a Request for Utilization Review is filed by a workers’ compensation insurer, the insurance carrier is immediately relieved of payment of bills for the treatment at issue, unless and until the treatment at issue is found to be “reasonable and necessary.”

Being in business for profit, or at least to make a living, not all providers are able, or willing, to continue to provide treatment once a UR is filed. One of the most dangerous areas this problem hits home is with medications.

As a general rule, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act requires medical providers to submit their bills to the workers’ compensation insurance carrier on the correct forms. Again, the usual rule is that the workers’ comp insurance carrier is not required to pay bills until they are submitted on the proper forms (and until supporting documentation is provided).

A recent decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, however, confirms the beliefs of us Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorneys, who feel this technical step is not always necessary. In Shelton v. WCAB, decided by the Court on June 26, 2008, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier was ordered to pay medical bills even though the bills were not submitted on the proper forms.

In this case, the Court drew a distinction between the situations when the claim has already been accepted as opposed to one where there has never been liability of the workers’ compensation insurance carrier established. When the liability of the workers’ compensation insurance carrier has not yet been established, then bills must be on the proper forms. When we are dealing with an accepted claim, then this technicality may not be necessary.

One of the more commonly misunderstood aspects in the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act is the status of medical treatment within the first 90 days of the injury. Too often, an injured worker will be told by his or her employer that they must treat with a specific company doctor. This is not completely true, according to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

If the employer follows the requirements of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, and properly posts a listing of healthcare providers (not necessarily doctors, more on that later), the employer is only required to pay for treatment with those listed healthcare providers for the first 90 days of treatment after a work injury.

To have the listing of healthcare providers (known as a “panel posting”) be “proper,” the list must meet certain requirements. For one thing, there must be at least six healthcare providers on the list, of which at least three must be doctors. The names, addresses, telephone numbers and specialties of each healthcare provider must be stated as well. The healthcare providers on the list must be “geographically accessible.” The list must be prominently displayed, and the employer must have the worker sign a document acknowledging that the worker saw the list at the time the worker is hired, after a change is made on the list, and after the injury.

In a recent decision favorable to injured workers in PA, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania said that, under certain circumstances, a workers’ compensation insurance company must pay not only to modify a van to be wheelchair accessible, but to pay for the cost of the van itself. This is an important change in the law, because there had been an older case, finding the workers’ compensation insurance company was only responsible to pay for making a van wheelchair accessible (and not for the cost of the van itself).

The injured worker in this case, who was paralyzed in a work injury, was not able to get out of the house, even to medical appointments, without this special van. Fortunately, the Court saw the unfairness of making the workers’ compensation insurance company pay only to modify the van for a wheelchair, when the injured worker might then not even be able to afford buying the van itself. The Court said, ” . . . the van is crucial to restore some small measure of the independence and quality of life that existed before the work injury.”

This rule is probably limited to cases like this, involving a catastrophic injury. The Court also said the situation of the injured worker in each case needs to be examined. For example, is a new van required? Did the injured worker own a van before the injury? Was any automobile owned by the injured worker before the injury? The answers to these questions, and others, would determine whether the workers’ compensation insurance company would have to pay for the cost of the van in any future case.