JEFFERSON CITY – Recipients of workers' compensation would be able to choose their own medical care after an on-the-job accident under a bill heard in a Missouri House committee Monday.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said the bill would give employees peace of mind and restore more integrity into the workers' compensation system.
However, witnesses filled the room and queued up to speak out against the bill and in the interest of business during a House Insurance Policy Committee hearing. In total, one witness spoke in support of the bill while seven spoke in opposition.
Colona said it is important for employees to see their own primary care physician for an accurate diagnosis, especially when deciding if an injury is a pre-existing condition or one that was caused because of job-related activity.
"Who better to evaluate somebody and say, 'This is a pre-existing condition,' other than your primary care physician," Colona said. "I think this adds a little bit more integrity from a realistic and employee or employer perspective."
Colona said he does not question the motives of company doctors. However, he said the common perception is that company doctors tell workers their injuries are not work-related but are instead from pre-existing conditions.
"The perception is that they (company doctors) are getting millions of dollars in contracts to 'treat' employees," Colona said. "If we remove that incentive and allow employees to see their own doctors, again, the perception of a system that works is going to be a whole lot higher."
Rep. Bob Nance, R-Excelsior Springs, said a personal doctor might diagnose illness or injuries in a way that benefits the worker but is costly for the employers.
"Your own doctor is going to be very generous to making an assumption as to what your problem is," Nance said.
Many, including Nance, are also concerned about increased costs to workers' compensation. Nance said there could be additional expenses, such as whether workers' compensation insurance would cover a mistake made by a personal doctor after the initial treatment.
But the president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, Robert Palmer, said the cost of health care would decrease if employees could choose a physician. He said health care costs less in Illinois and Tennessee, where employees have the option to use their own physician.
No immediate action was taken on the bill.