The central fact that injured workers need access to quality medical care can often get lost in the debate about workers’ compensation reforms and costs. But that issue strikes at the core of what treating physicians are committed to providing in Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, “Workers’ comp bill ignores medical costs” (News, April 7) may leave readers the impression that medical costs in Oklahoma are a significant driver of workers’ compensation costs, and a central component of needed reforms. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), the largest provider of data and analysis on state workers’ compensation systems, cites Oklahoma’s medical costs as almost half the national and regional averages.
Oklahoma medical providers have received regular cuts to the workers’ compensation medical fee schedule since 2004 — the latest cut being more than $40 million in 2011, which was mandated by the Legislature. All this while costs for treating injured workers continue to rise.
Included in the story was the question by some lawmakers why an earlier proposal to tie the workers’ comp fee schedule to a Medicare cap was dropped from pending legislation. The simple answer is this has been done in other states, namely Texas, and resulted in a mass exodus of physicians from the workers’ comp system. In fact, Texas and several other states have recently raised their rates to make it financially feasible for physicians to treat injured workers.
The article cited accusations of unnecessary medical procedures in the workers’ comp system by physicians. Every element of medical treatment is authorized, and followed closely by, an insurance case manager who represents the employer paying for the treatment. Case managers determine whether care will be authorized and dispute any aspect of treatment they view as unnecessary. Workers’ comp has more checks and balances than any component of traditional health care. Additionally, physicians take an oath to uphold their responsibility toward their patients and society at large. It’s an oath that’s taken seriously.
Oklahoma continues to rank last in the nation when it comes to physicians per capita and access to quality health care. The notion of lowering workers’ comp costs through lowering medical fees — again — is straining a gnat while swallowing a camel, and it will only exacerbate health care woes of the state.
Workers’ compensation reform is a welcomed debate, but let’s be honest in that discourse about what drives costs.
Robinson, of Shawnee, is president of the Oklahoma State Medical Assocation.