Gov. Wolf not backing a bill to limit workman’s comp opioid prescriptions

Investigations

Gov. Tom Wolf has twice declared the opioid crisis a state of emergency in Pennsylvania.

Injured workers in the commonwealth sure seem hooked. A study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute shows Pennsylvania is second only to Louisiana in the number of opioids prescribed to those hurt on the job.

“That is not a statistic I am proud of,” said state Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) who chairs the House Labor and Industry Committee. “We’re number two and we need to get to the back end when it comes to prescribing opioids within our workers comp system.”

The fix, according to Kauffman and most Republican lawmakers, is Senate Bill 936, which would create a drug formulary for doctors to follow that would limit “the type, dosage and duration of prescriptions.”

Big business supports it.

“If we truly believe we have an opioid crisis, we ought to be doing everything reasonable and responsible to address it. This bill does that,” said Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, who sent a letter urging lawmakers to vote yes.

The insurance industry is also singing the praises of SB 936.

“An injured worker who is on addicted to opioids, guess what? They’re not going back to work and the whole point of workers comp is to get an injured worker back to work,” said Jonathan Greer of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania.

The bill passed the Senate and last week passed the House. It sits on Wolf’s desk. He can sign it, veto it, or let it lapse into law unsigned, which it will do Friday.

“Senate Bill 936 is a huge legislative overreach,” said Dr. Sam Grodofsky of Physicians for Patients Rights.

Grodofsky treats injured workers and says he’s frequently handcuffed by those workers’ insurance policies that have restrictive drug formularies.

“I’m limited to certain medications and they’re usually not what are the safest but the cheapest,” he said.

“If that really were true, the Pennsylvania Medical Society would be adamantly opposed to this bill. They’re not,” Barr said.

Organized doctors groups are not opposed. Organized labor is opposed. So are trial lawyers.

“This bill is bad for people who are hurt while working in Pennsylvania and they’ve suffered enough,” said Lisa Benzie, a Harrisburg attorney who represents injured workers and insists their rights have steadily eroded over time. She suspects SB 936 is a ploy to further deny treatments and coverage for quality care.

“It seems to me like this is an opportunity for people pushing this bill to line their own pockets, again, at the expense of people who are hurt while working, hard-working Pennsylvanians,” Benzie said.

But supporters of SB 936 have their own suspicions about the motivations of those opposed to the bill, including Wolf. They point to a Philadelphia Inquirer investigation showing certain law firms with financial interests in certain drug companies. The more drugs prescribed, the more they make.

Those firms have fought mightily against SB 936. Further, those law firms, according to the paper, created a PAC and have contributed mightily to Wolf’s re-election. The next move is Wolf’s and he has a tough decision.

“I can’t imagine this governor having the chutzpah to veto this legislation in the middle of a disaster declaration,” Kauffman said.

Formularies, it should be noted, are not a foreign concept. CHIP and Medicaid and likely your private insurer have some type of drug formulary.

Under the bill, they would be established by Wolf’s Department of Labor and Industry after public input.

Benzie notes that there are not enough specifics in the bill to show what a formulary would look like. She doesn’t trust that lack of clarity.

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