Choice of Health Care Professional

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In Kansas, some politicians think its wrong for the government to choose your doctor while simultaneously supporting provisions of Kansas law that allow your employer to choose your doctor.  What’s the difference?

Corporations–and corporate front-groups like the Kansas Chamber–give campaign cash.

For over two decades in Kansas, working Kansans have been denied proper treatment for workplace injuries, injuries that often arise from unsafe working conditions and employer negligence. The Kansas workers compensation act–the exclusive remedy for working Kansans injured on the job–is failing to live up to the promise of diagnosing and treating employee injuries arising from the workplace in Kansas. Instead of acting as a compromise between the business community and working Kansans, corporate interests in Topeka have weakened the Kansas workers’ compensation act to place the entire risk of unsafe working conditions on the backs of working Kansans–and leaving no recourse for working Kansans who are injured on the job.

Take Delbert Young, for example.

Delbert & Shirley Young

Delbert Young fell of a bicycle in 2006 while working at the Boeing plant in Wichita, and his life changed forever.

Several months of false starts and inconclusive testing by physicians eventually led to neck surgery. It was not a fix. Doctors removed bone fragment in his spine and fused two vertebrae. He lost his job after 27 years and was declared permanently disabled.

He burned through his life savings while adjusting to life among the unemployed. ”My family’s finances have been devastated,” Young said…

Senate panel debates worker compensation, Topeka Capital-Journal, March 3, 2009

Delbert is permanently disabled, having two cervical vertebrae fused after his injury. His injury occurred on July 17, 2006, but Delbert didn’t receive a full diagnostic MRI until October 20, 2006–more than three months after the injury occurred.

In the meantime, Boeing doctors–because Delbert was prohibited under Kansas’ workers’ compensation system from choosing his own doctor–blamed his symptoms of dizziness and weak, “rubbery” legs on diabetes.  After receiving a full work-up for diabetes and determining Delbert’s diabetes were not the culprit for his symptoms, Delbert’s doctor ordered an MRI.  However, when Delbert arrived to receive his MRI, he was denied because Boeing had not authorized the MRI.

He was denied a full MRI and Boeing would only authorize the MRI for Delbert’s shoulder–not his neck.  For another two months, Delbert dealt with a significant injury to his spinal cord. On October 16, 2006, Delbert retained counsel to enforce his rights under the Kansas workers’ compensation act. The same day, Boeing authorized a full diagnostic MRI of Delbert’s neck and spinal cord, finding the severe injuries to his cervical vertebrae.

According to Delbert’s surgeon, if Delbert’s neck had been diagnosed and treated earlier, around 75% of Delbert’s injuries would have been corrected. But now, Delbert finds himself unable to work to support his family, including a sick daughter, and, as Delbert tells it in his own words…

“Because workers compensation is my exclusive remedy under Kansas law, I cannot hold my employer or their medical personnel accountable for their refusal to provide me with treatment for injuries that have left me permanently unable to work.”

Because Kansas law prohibits injured working Kansans from seeing their own doctor and gives the employer the authority to choose the doctor, working Kansans are denied appropriate medical treatment after a workplace injury. The focus of the employers’ medical staff is, first, to reduce medical costs for the employer and, second, treatment of the injured employee. Injuries not appropriately diagnosed and treated immediately can morph into a more permanent and long-term disability, such as the circumstances that Delbert Young now faces.

During the 2010 Kansas legislative session, while the Kansas Legislature held extensive hearings on potential federal health care reforms, a bill that would have granted working Kansans the opportunity to choose their own doctor after workplace injuries failed to even obtain a hearing.

Senate Bill 547 would have granted working Kansans injured on the job the right to determine their own doctor, among other reforms. The bill provided:

An injured employee may designate a licensed health care provider to provide medical and surgical treatment reasonably necessary to cure and relieve the employee from the effects of the injury.

Introduced in early in the 2010 session, Senate Bill 547 was never provided a hearing and died upon the close of the session in May. If leaders of the Kansas Legislature were truly interested in the fundamental freedom of all Kansans to choose their own doctors, Senate Bill 547 would have been given a hearing.

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Choice of Health Care Professional

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