In the Legislature: Under bill, state workers could record medical exams in injury cases

Photo courtesy Public News Service

Washington state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would address some workers’ concerns about the thoroughness of medical exams performed in worker’s compensation cases.

House Bill 1068 would allow workers to record examinations of their injuries, which are known as independent medical exams or “compelled exams.” The bill would also permit workers to have one person of the worker’s choosing, to be present to observe all worker’s compensation exams.

State Rep. Cindy Ryu, who represents Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway in the 32nd District, is a bill co-sponsor.

Joe Kendo, chief of staff for the Washington State Labor Council, which is made up of about 600 local unions representing more than 500,000 workers, said this bill would create the same standards for worker’s compensation as other insurance cases.

“By allowing recordings, by allowing somebody who is not the worker’s attorney to attend the examination,” he said, “we’ll get a much clearer record and will ensure that the docs who are doing the compelled examination are doing a thorough exam.”

In a hearing on the legislation, Carolyn Logue with the Washington IME Coalition expressed concerns on behalf of some medical providers. She said it would lead to fewer doctors who are willing to do the exams, which could slow down the process.

Kendo said doctors’ reports would be more complete if they included a recording for reference. He said workers have expressed concerns that providers are not performing the necessary examinations to assess their injuries, and disagreeing with the assessments can be an uphill battle.

“When the worker is appealing their claim, this is the evidence that they’re having to bring before the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals,” he said, “and then it just becomes worker versus the doctor in a very contentious setting and that’s a lot for a worker to overcome.”

Kendo said workers’ livelihoods often are on the line in these cases.

“Their ability to retain their wage replacement benefits or get the medical treatment they need hinges on the opinion of these docs who aren’t their usual attending physician or they’re not the specialist that is treating their workplace injury,” he said. “So there’s a lot on the line.”

An executive session in the House Committee on Labor and Workplace Standards on the bill was scheduled for Friday.

— By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service (WA)

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