State senators table workers comp bill

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A bill has been set aside in the Hawaii Senate that would have changed the rules of workers comp cases by eliminating independent medical examinations.

The Senate Ways & Means Committee tabled HB466, sponsored by House Labor Chairman Karl Rhoads, which drew opposition from experts in the workers comp field in addition to the usual opposition of the business community.

Sen. David Ige, chairman of the committee, called for a study to assess the issue of alleged bias in independent medical examinations, and drew praise for the proposal.

"This is a constructive, logical, and intellectually sound approach to a complex, emotionally charged issue," said Maui-based neurologist Lorne Direnfeld, who submitted written testimony against the bill.

Hawaii has lower workers comp costs than many other states. The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii said costs would be raised, and jobs jeopardized, by new rules obliging employee and employer to agree on a physician or face a state official choosing a doctor from a list. Costs did rise in California when similar changes were undertaken.

Some proponents of change have indicated concern that independent medical examinations might prevent injured workers from getting proper treatment and compensation, but opponents in the medical community charge that the elimination of independent medical examinations leads to delayed recovery and prolonged disability that actually harms the patient and can make it harder to return to work later.

"This is an issue too easy to polarize. It is much more complex than those not involved with it realize," Direnfeld says.

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