Today in The Morning Call, reporter Logan Hullinger dives into the ongoing fight over HB-18, the Pennsylvania House Bill currently in committee that has garnered heated bipartisan opposition due to its proposed regressive mandates.
If passed, the bill would remove a medical practitioner’s professional opinion, individual consideration, and discretion from the doctor-patient relationship and instead create a forced, sterile transaction subject to supervision and approval by political appointees. Doctors licensed to practice medicine in this country spend many years in medical school, then have to pass a series of exams and complete fellowships in order to achieve board-accredited status in their state so they can practice medicine in their area of expertise. HB-18 would strip doctors (even non-specialists like family practitioners, who also achieve board certification) of their legal right and authority to practice medicine and treat their patients as individuals.
HB-18, in addition to being an improper invasion of political interests into the doctor-patient relationship, would hurt injured workers because it invalidates the unique needs of the individual being treated for his or her work injury. Injuries and their treatments manifest differently for everyone, and to force a doctor to adhere to the mandates ofHB-18, including restrictions on medicines they may prescribe, would prevent workers from receiving the treatment they need to properly heal.
State Representative Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh/Berks), the bill’s main sponsor, claims that the bill would help address the issue of over-prescription of opioids in Pennsylvania, which he posits are of special concern in workers’ compensation, but does not provide unbiased evidence to support this claim.
Representative Mackenzie asserts in the article that people or organizations with a conflict of interest in the proposed legislation should be open and upfront about those interests, claiming that Sam Pond should disclose any financial interests he has in preventing the bill from passing due to the fact that his workers’ compensation law firm has partnered with a pharmacy that specializes in serving injured workers. However, our interest in the Workers First pharmacy has never been hidden. In fact, it is readily available to the public, displayed prominently on the firm’s website.
However, when discussing the topic of full disclosure of interests, it is important to note that the article cites a 2016 study looking at the amount of opioids prescribed to injured workers in 25 states, with Pennsylvania ranked third highest. But this research was conducted by anything but an objective entity. The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute is run by individuals from insurance companies and large businesses who have a financial interest in passing HB-18, no less so than Representative Mackenzie, who receives campaign donations from several of these entities.
The article also mentions a study Representative Mackenzie cited in support of HB-18, which was conducted by the National Safety Council (NSC), an organization that has many corporate and insurance company executives on its board – again, hardly an impartial voice. Additionally, while Mackenzie cites a link between the imposition of a drug formulary in Texas and a reduction in opioid prescriptions in that state, he conspicuously avoids mentioning another explanation – Texas is one of a growing number of states allowing companies to opt-out altogether of providing workers’ compensation benefits to employees, meaning workers injured on the job often have zero treatment alternatives available to them that wouldn’t mean bankruptcy. The actions and profiles of states like Texas make them poor role models for Pennsylvania, which has a long history of protecting workers from exploitation and injury.
Furthermore, Representative Mackenzie has received nearly $16,000 from insurance-funded political action committees over the last five years, according to Hullinger. In addition to this, PAC contributions made in Pennsylvania by insurance lobbyists dwarf those made by both “tort reform” lobbyists and “legal profession” lobbyists.
Ultimately, Representative Mackenzie’s defense to those willing to give injured workers a voice in the fight against HB-18 is to continue pushing the opioid angle when it is evident the bill is about maximizing profits and reducing costs for insurance companies and large corporations, who will do anything to ensure these goals – even at the expense of victims of work injuries. Just follow the money and it is evident who is in Representative Mackenzie’s ear – and pocket.