By: Jerry M. Lehocky Partner
One of the biggest myths I see perpetuated in the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system is employers telling injured workers that they MUST treat with the company’s doctor. Nothing could be further from the truth; not only can you treat with your own doctor, but you should.
Consider the state of the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system: originally designed to protect workers in the event they got hurt on the job, it has morphed into something far from its original intent – it’s become a bureaucratic mess of employers determined to cut corners and demonize the very loyal and hardworking, while insurance companies strive to maximize profits at the expense of these injured workers and their families. It’s a far cry from the agreement penned in 1915, whereby workers gave up a constitutional right in exchange for having their wages and medical expenses paid if they ever got hurt at work.
This brings me back to the point at hand: company panel doctors are not impartial voices in evaluating your injuries and determining your disability status. Consider who pays them – the employer’s insurance carrier! As much as I hate to say it, these doctors are rarely known to issue a pro-worker evaluation, even when it’s obvious that worker has a significant injury preventing them from returning to work, and which was definitely acquired on-the-job. Why would they?
Treating with your own doctor is one of the best ways you can protect yourself if injured on the job. Your workers’ compensation benefits (consisting of medical expenses paid plus wage-loss) are influenced by something called your “disability rating,” which is determined in large part by the evaluation of the doctor you treat with. You must take control of your own medical care, even though your employer and their workers’ compensation insurance carrier will undoubtedly encourage you to (if not outright lie and say you must) treat with their company panel of doctors.
Now, it is important to note an exception to this rule that occurs in rare circumstances: if your employer had you sign a Panel Acknowledgment letter upon your hiring, and sign it immediately following your injury, and they have the names of at least six doctors posted prominently in your workplace – then your employer can require you to treat with one of its doctors for the first 90 days after your injury. After 90 days, you may treat with whatever doctor(s) you wish, and the 90-day stipulation exists only when all three of the abovementioned requirements are met. There are some other small stipulations that exist when it comes to what doctors you are allowed to treat with, which can be viewed here.
While this is a rare occurrence, it is a critical aspect in your workers’ compensation case and one where it can make all the difference having an experienced workers’ compensation attorney on your side. You may not remember signing a Panel Acknowledgment in the midst of all your new employee paperwork. You may not understand what your employer was asking you to sign after you got hurt at work and reported the injury. A workers’ compensation attorney handles these situations all day, every day and will make sure your best interests are protected and that your employer follows standard rules and procedures throughout the handling of your workers’ compensation case.
Get in touch with us if you or a loved one has experienced a work injury and has questions about your rights. We can help fight back against the lies perpetuated all too often in the workplace to injured workers. And remember, the vast majority of the time you can treat with your own doctor for your work injury, and should! Controlling your own medical care is the most important factor when it comes to controlling a favorable outcome for your workers’ compensation matter.