Independent Medical Exam bill will harm workers and employers

Feb 12, 2020
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Written by Washington Retail
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The bill is premature; needs more work

Senate Bill 6440 proposes sweeping and troubling changes to Washington State’s workers’ compensation system by restricting access to independent medical examinations (IMEs). IMEs ensure workers are receiving the best care possible by allowing a second medical opinion.

IMEs provide objective oversight of treatments, review of a worker’s recovery and their return-to-work status. This all validates the care of injured workers, allows for more efficient treatment and ensures the proper management of claims in the state’s workers’ compensation system.

However, SB 6440 would:

  • Impose severe limits on the use of IME’s
  • Eliminate their value by allowing the initial physician to control access to an independent specialist
  • Destroy patient/physician confidentiality by allowing IME’s to be recorded
  • Limit the availability of IME’s by restricting the location and time periods for exams

Currently, the bill lacks critical input from physicians, employers, injured workers or the Department of Labor and Industries, which administers workers’ compensation in the state. Put simply, it is poorly thought out and is not ready for approval.

If the bill is approved prematurely, physicians will be reluctant to provide IME’s because of new requirements related to record-keeping and availability for litigation. None of this bodes well for workers or employers.

To its credit, the bill calls for the formation of a task force to identify and examine issues related to IME’s, and to bring back recommendations to the Legislature. That work should come before the Legislature considers passing a bill.

A task force should first be allowed to identify issues, examine options and bring recommendations to the Legislature for consideration. Otherwise, the Legislature runs the risk of acting without all the facts required to achieve intelligent reform.

Washington Retail is convinced this bill is not ready for a vote. Far too much remains overlooked about its impacts. We urge lawmakers to first allow the task force to study the needs of employers and workers and assess the impacts of the bill. We’re willing to participate with the task force.

At the very least, the Legislature should amend the bill to eliminate its unnecessary restrictions on IMEs so that a task force can do its work unrushed, in a meaningful and thoughtful manner.

Washington Retail encourages all concerned workers and employers alike to join us in contacting their legislators either at 1-800-562-6000 (TTY for Hearing Impaired 800-833-6388) or comment on SB 6440.