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Do I have to treat with the Company Doctor?

Q. I was injured on the job six months ago and my employer is telling me that I have to treat with the company doctor. Is that true?

A. No. Section 315(1) of the Michigan Workers’ Disability Compensation Act provides that 28 days after medical care begins, “the employee may treat with a physician of his or her own choice by giving the employer the name of the physician and his or her intention to treat with the physician.”

pic-home.jpgAn injured workers’ right to receive first rate medical care should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it is not. For example,  I have seen one area employer require an employee, who had passed out after inhaling fumes, to drive himself to a clinic 30 miles away– to a clinic that was closed.  I have seen Wal-mart require employees to sign an illegal contract at the time of hire, agreeing that, if injured, the employee would only treat with Wal-mart doctors.  There are a number of  workers’ compensation insurance carriers who improperly act as if Michigan’s workers’ compensation system is a managed care HMO and tell injured workers that they must get its permission every time they  see a doctor or get a script filled.  Regretfully, there are some doctors in the area who refuse to treat injured workers and some who now require an injured worker to fill out a form denying that their injuries are work-related, presumably so the doctors can tap into better paying insurance.

The quality of medical services a person receives shouldn’t vary based upon whether one was injured swinging a golf club on the golf course or pushing a broom in a diner. True medical science requires that the same medical condition receive the same quality treatment, and it shouldn’t matter whether one is an overpriced Delphi executive or a waitress struggling to get by on pocket change.  The Michigan workers’ compensation statute recognizes this principle.

We should not take this right for granted.  One of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first acts in office as Governor of California was to terminate an injured worker’s right to treat with the doctor of his or her choice.  A number of other states also require an injured worker to treat with special company doctors certified to treat (or not treat?) work injuries in their own special way.  You have a right in Michigan to control your own medical care. Do not let your employer make such fundamental decisions about your life, health and well-being.

In 2010, the Republican Party took control of both the State House and State Senate. Business lobbyists proposed legislation to give an employer and it’s insurance company total control over an injured workers’ medical care. Organized labor, the medical community, injured workers and we advocates for injured workers, spoke out, testified, and protested against this proposal. The proposal was significantly diluted. The only change in the statute on this issue was that a worker injured after December 19, 2011 can select his own doctor 28 days after medical treatment begins, rather than after 10 days.
The Snyder administration continued to talk about proposing radical new regulations which would significantly limit the amount and type of medical care all injured workers in Michigan can receive. The administration talked about adopting regulations that would require injured workers to receive pre-authorization for all medical treatment, and allowing doctors to  only provide care that is spelled out in agency guidelines or ‘cookbooks’ written by the insurance industry. Injured workers and their advocates, organized labor and the medical community thankfully fought off this effort to make injured workers second class citizens entitled to only Third World health care. Injured workers must continue to be vigilant in protecting their rights at the ballot box.

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