Want to cut workers’ comp costs in Hawaii? Cooperate
Everybody knows that cooperation is the best way to streamline problem solving, clear up disagreements and promote efficiency. And everybody knows that this same concept of cooperation can reduce the cost of doing business when applied to employer-worker relations. So why is it taking the Legislature and our governor so long to cooperate in passing Hawaii's innovative Workers' Compensation "Mandated Cooperation" proposal found in House Bill 2929? Who knows? But it is time for our Legislature and the governor to pass this bill because Hawaii's employers, including small businesses, need the cost savings that are guaranteed to occur once mandatory cooperation is the rule of workers' comp law in Hawaii.
Let me explain why mandated cooperation will cut workers' comp costs in Hawaii.
The longer a worker stays off work waiting for an injury claim to be accepted or waiting to receive proper medical care, the more it costs employers due to increased worker lost time and off-work benefits costs. Currently, if an insurance carrier questions whether you really got hurt on the job or questions your doctor's treatment plan to get you better, the insurance carrier can stop your claim and/or treatment in its tracks and send you to a doctor of their choice for an exam. The injured worker is required to go to these insurance carrier doctor exams, but the injured workers have no say in the selection of the doctors who will exam them. The insurance carriers call these insurance carrier exams independent medical exams or IMEs.
But how independent are the medical reports generated by these insurance company-selected doctors? Did you know that some insurance carriers in Hawaii pay selected IME doctors hundreds of thousands of dollars each year (in some cases more than a million dollars a year) to conduct these medical exams on injured workers? Does that amount of money generate independent reports or simply doctor loyalty to insurance carriers selecting the designated doctor? The answer might never be known.
But what is known is that employer costs increase because these insurance carrier doctor reports delay treatment for weeks or months, create suspicion on the part of the injured worker and often result in months of litigation; time spent fighting reports that are believed to be biased or downright deceitful.
Frequently these medical reports are eventually discredited by the injured workers' own doctors and then the claims get accepted or the treatment finally starts. However, weeks or months of delay might have occurred during these struggles and these delays result in increased workers' comp costs paid by Hawaii's business community.
HB 2929 will lower workers' comp claim costs by eliminating fights about the validity of these medical reports. Under HB 2929 the insurance carrier can still send an injured worker to a doctor to be examined at any time. Any injured worker must still attend the examination or they can lose their workers' comp benefits. But when HB 2929 becomes law, the doctor chosen to examine the injured worker must then be selected by "mutual consent" of the parties. In other words, HB 2929 mandates that the parties to a workers' comp injury claim cooperate in selecting the IME doctors.
This mandated cooperation required by HB 2929 will result in prompt selection of doctors; doctors that all parties feel are fair, thorough, competent and unbiased. In turn, the mutual cooperation (selection) of these doctors should generate prompt medical reports that all parties can accept. No more delays fighting reports that are thought to be biased. No more extended weekly benefits while the parties litigate the validity of the reports at hearings. No more waiting for months to get a decision on a hearing. Just a prompt medical report from a local medical specialist in whom both parties have confidence. And fewer fights means fewer claim delays and that means lower workers' comp costs.
Finally, in addition to getting injured workers back to work faster and cutting costs for our business community, it's not hard to realize that a mandatory cooperation law in Hawaii would be a positive statement regarding a true pro-business stance toward controlling workers' comp costs. I'll bet that the Wall Street Journal, which so often bashes Hawaii for being anti-business, might even say a few positive words about our Legislature and governor's acts of promoting mandated cooperation and reducing workers' comp costs in Hawaii.
Let's all ask the Legislature and governor to cooperate in passing HB 2929 now. Then let's all sit back and enjoy the cost savings benefits that this cooperation produced.
Joseph F. Zuiker is a Honolulu lawyer specializing in workers' comp.