Op-ed By Senator Jay Costa, Jr. & Rep. Frank Dermody
Sitting on Governor Tom Wolf’s desk right now is Senate Bill 936 – legislation that would interfere with the relationship between an injured worker and their doctor, as a way to save money for the insurance industry.
As our system currently operates, when a worker is hurt on the job they see a physician and that medical professional determines the best course of treatment and prescription medication that their patient requires. SB 936 would instead require a formulary that overrides doctors, and allows prescriptions only as mandated by an insurer. If a worker would prefer the treatment that their trusted physician has prescribed, they have few and risky options: they can pay wholly out of pocket for their medicine, they can enter an cumbersome appeals process that is controlled by the same insurance companies imposing the restrictions on their prescription choices, or they can take whatever the formulary allows and pray that it works, doesn’t react with other medications that they are taking (that the formulary doesn’t account for), or doesn’t have side effects.
The kind of system this bill would create is incredibly restrictive, and would limit doctors to just 20 therapeutic classes of drugs. For context, the average insurance provider offers more than 100 classes.
Savings from a plan like this, if any exist, would come from undercutting workers who have been hurt on the job by limiting the prescriptions that they can receive and lowering workers compensation rates for their employers. If someone has been hurt on the job, they should be entitled to the health care that their doctor prescribes, not the bargain basement plan designed by insurers in this formulary.
That’s especially true for police and prison guards who put their lives on the line every day to protect us. As the president of the Pa. State Troopers Association said, “a Trooper’s duty often results in physical injury … due deference to the physician’s personal knowledge of the injured Trooper should be preserved, not compromised by faulty legislation such as SB 936.”
And the president of the Pa. State Corrections Officers Association (prison guards) said in February, the bill “is simply an attempt to change our Workers Compensation program and place more burdens on workers who are injured in the line of duty.”
Simply put, it is an assault on workers, on par with the rest of the anti-worker agenda that the extremists in the Republican party are pushing. Just as they have denied an increase in the minimum wage, blocked funding for the unemployment system, attempted to abolish collective bargaining, this bill is another grab at workers’ rights.
Corporations and insurance companies cooked up this benefits reduction plan based on a similar system in Texas, a state notorious for its poor treatment of workers. In the Lone Star State, employers are not even required to provide workplace injury coverage at all. That’s not how we have treated or should be treating our workers here in Pennsylvania.
At its core, this plan is a hateful attack on injured workers, just to save a little money on compensation rates; and many Republicans saw through it. The bill failed its first vote in the House, but the anti-worker extremists used parliamentary maneuvers to get it a reconsideration two months later, where it passed with the bare minimum number of votes it needed. No Democrat supported this bill, and no Republican who respects workers did either.
A measure this important to the health of our workforce should not have been so political and so forced. The bill barely made it to the Governor’s desk, and we urge him to end its consideration and veto it immediately.