A bill aimed at reducing the over-prescription of opioid painkillers by patients in the workers compensation system sits in the hands of Gov. Tom Wolf, who said he is reviewing the legislation but also has criticized it.
The state House voted 101-92 earlier this month to approve Senate Bill 936. If signed into law, the bill would require the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry to create a standard for prescribing treatment for injured workers in the state’s workers’ compensation program as a way to keep people from abusing opioids.
J.J. Abbott, press secretary for Wolf, indicated that the governor would review the bill before making a final decision.
“The governor believes that an injured worker’s access to treatment should not be negatively hindered. This has consistently been his concern for more than a year since this bill was introduced,” Abbott said. “This bill will impact the quality of care for millions of workers should they be injured and could have particularly negative effects on high-risk workers, including law enforcement and laborers.”
Carlton Logue, executive director of the Senate banking and insurance committee, said the proposed standards would instill consistency and serve as a way to better tackle prescription drug abuse.
Unlike other areas of health insurance, there is no drug formulary for workers’ compensation, Logue said. “Most experts say it will be a useful tool.”
The legislation was prompted, in part, by a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News that noted some law firms specializing in workers’ compensation have purchased their own pharmacies and were referring their clients to them.
The bill passed the Senate on a 34-16 vote last October and initially tied when it came before the House in February. It passed after it was brought back up earlier this month.
Though Indiana County Republican Sen. Don White’s bill was introduced as a way to help combat the opioid epidemic, not everyone is convinced it will be effective.
“The legislation will now put it so that when an injured worker goes to a doctor, the doctor will now need to go to a formulary or a canned view of … what’s acceptable,” said Steven Ryan, an attorney at Frommer D’Amico Anderson in Susquehanna Township. “It’s a cut-and-dried approach to treating injuries … To me, that spells trouble for injured workers.”
Abbott also noted that the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association and Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association both submitted letters to the governor’s office urging him not to sign the bill.
Jason Bloom, president of the corrections officers group, said that while the legislation is being billed as a way to fight the opioid epidemic, the association feels it will shift the burdens of workers’ compensation onto workers who are injured in the line of duty.
“Any remedy not on the prescribed list is then not available as a treatment option for an injured worker until the employee and their doctor have completed a time-consuming appeal process,” he wrote in a letter to Wolf on Feb. 2. “The current process is much more efficient in that it utilizes the correct presumption that the doctor treating the injured worker knows best.”
PA State Corrections Officers Assn Oppose SB936