Thank you for visiting my blog. My name is Tara Reck and I am a managing attorney at Reck Law, PLLC. Our Workers’ Compensation and L&I attorneys are dedicated 100% to representing injured workers in Washington State. We have several offices in the Puget Sound area and we represent injured workers all over the state.
If you need help with your L&I claim, self-insured employer claim, or any other workers’ compensation or work injury claim, please give us a call to schedule a free consultation. We help with claim management, appeals and litigation with L&I and the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, Washington State Superior Court, Court of Appeals, and Washington State Supreme Court, as needed.
I recently ran into issues with designating an attending provider. So, I decided to write this article to help shed some light on the topic. In L&I claims and self-insured employer claims in Washington State, the opinions of attending providers receive special consideration. Therefore, selecting the attending provider is an important decision.
The first attending provider
After a work injury, to open a claim, a medical provider completes and files an initial Report of Accident (ROA) form. Many times, the provider that completes the form automatically becomes the initial attending provider. However, this designation can change.
People are often surprised to learn they don’t have to see these specific clinics. You can choose any attending provider you wish. The only requirement is – they must be part of the L&I medical provider network (MPN). More importantly, you can even transfer your attending provider during the claim! Below is some important information you need to know if you want to change providers.
Under RCW 51.36.010(2)(a) work injury claimants covered by the industrial insurance act receive proper and necessary medical and surgical services at the hands of a physician or licensed advanced registered nurse practitioner of the worker’s own choice. With one limitation: The location of the provider must be convenient for the injured worker.
Request to change attending provider
Under WAC 296-20-065, workers can freely choose a treating provider. More explicitly, it says that “no reasonable request for transfer to a network provider will be denied”. However, there are certain exceptions. If L&I denies your request, they must notify you. The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) must also provide a reason for denial.
Some valid reasons for denying a request to change a provider include:
(1) When there are other providers that can give the necessary treatment. Here, their location must be more convenient to the work injury claimant.
(2) In cases where the new attending provider fails to cooperate with L&I rules.
(4) When you need special treatment which is outside the license or practice of the provider.
(5) If the claim administrator says the change is appropriate but the worker refuses or delays compliance.
(6) When the qualifications of the provider aren’t suitable to treat each of several accepted conditions.
If you want to transfer to a new attending provider, L&I might deny your request. When they do, please determine whether one of the exceptions above apply. Then, if none applies, you can elevate your request up the chain of command within L&I. As always, you can also contact a workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your options.
Figuring out when to retire is always a big decision. Even if you don’t have an open workers’ compensation claim. However, retiring with an open L&I claim is even more complex. In fact, if you voluntarily retire while you have an open L&I claim, it can have serious impact on your L&I benefits.
Voluntary retirement during an L&I claim
The term Voluntary Retirement has a special meaning in workers’ compensation claims. Under WAC 296-14-100, you are “voluntarily retired” if:
You are not getting salary or wages from gainful employment; and
After your retirement, you don’t show any real attempts to go back to work.
There are important nuances to the rules above. For one, a work injury claimant isn’t “voluntarily retired” when a proximate cause for their retirement is a workplace injury or occupational disease. What does it mean? If at least one reason for your retirement is directly because of your work injury, then your retirement isn’t “voluntary”.
Some people have severe disabilities because of their industrial injury or workplace illness. They can never return to work. These people may be eligible for an L&I pension. A pension is essentially a lifetime annuity. People that receive pension benefits under their L&I claim can also collect retirement money. Therefore, it’s usually better to make retirement decisions after L&I decides if you have permanent total disability.
Documenting your retirement reasons
However, delaying retirement isn’t always possible. Also, sometimes, it’s not practical. There are many reasons why people retire before L&I decides on permanent total disability. Unfortunately, in my experience, L&I usually assumes the retirement was “voluntary”. That is, if it happens while the claim is open and active. Yet, this assumption is often wrong. Many times, it’s not easy to decide if the retirement fits the legal definition of “voluntary retirement”. This is especially true when the retirement facts and circumstances are not well-documented.
Some people choose to retire while their claim is open. If the retirement has nothing to do with your work injury or disease, be ready to lose your time-loss benefits. Furthermore, you will not receive an L&I pension. But, if your decision to retire is based (at least in part) on the work injury or workplace illness, then you must document all claim-related reasons.
If you retire with an open L&I claim, you’ll probably be giving up some benefits. You should seriously think about whether to retire while your workers’ comp claim is open. Make sure you understand the rules and consequences. I tried to explain some of the considerations in this article. However, retiring during an L&I claim is not a simple matter. Hence, I always recommend speaking with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney before making any retirement decisions.
Work injury claimants call my office all the time asking for advice about IME exams. Many of them heard bad things about IME tests. They don’t know what to expect. Others ask how to prepare for the IME and what to do. The best advice I can give is to plan and be ready. To help, below are 6 steps that every work injury claimant must follow.
How L&I claims work
After an injury at work, you open a claim with L&I or your self-insured employer. From there, you get medical or mental treatment as appropriate. The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) should cover your medical care. They also pay wage replacement benefits such as time-loss compensation. The attending provider is your go-to person for treatment under the claim. Your attending provider oversees your condition and refers you out as necessary.
One of the main turning points in every workers’ compensation claim is the IME. In fact, IME exams can cause L&I to stop paying benefits. It can also result in denying medical coverage. But first, let’s try to understand why L&I needs IME exams.
Why must I go to an IME?
L&I makes many decisions during your claim. It’s part of the claim administration process. For example, L&I decides to allow some conditions under the claim. They can also reject certain conditions. Similarly, your employer can push back and request to deny conditions. Furthermore, the employer can protest some monetary benefits.
Your claim manager or claim administrator is not a medical expert. They just follow process. Hence, whenever L&I needs input about your medical or mental condition, they can request an IME. According to L&I, the IME provides “objective medical-legal examination to establish medical findings, opinions, and conclusions”. After the exam, L&I receives the IME report. After that, they can make decisions in your claim to move it forward.
IME exams can be intimidating
Not surprisingly, work injury claimants are often nervous when they have an upcoming IME. Sometimes, I even get calls asking if a workers compensation attorney can get people out of having to go. The short answer is No. That’s unless there are special considerations or circumstances. Moreover, if you fail to attend an IME, then L&I can flag you as non-cooperative. In turn, L&I can penalize you for non-cooperative behavior. They can even suspend your benefits.
How to prepare for IME exam
Here are 6 steps that every worker must follow before and after an IME exam.
#1 – Take an observer
You can bring an observer with you to the exam, except for mental health exams. For example, a family member or a friend can be an observer. The observer cannot disrupt the IME provider. However, the observer can watch the exam and take notes. The observer can also serve as a witness in case you need one later.
#2 – Go over the general timeline of your claim before the exam
IME doctors often comment about whether the worker is a “good historian”. In my experience, IME doctors that state that the injured worker is a “poor historian” are less favorable. You don’t need to know every little detail. You just need to explain what happened in your claim and when.
#3 – Practice describing your symptoms
It’s going to make it easier for everyone if you can communicate with the IME clearly. It’s important for you to accurately describe your symptoms without being overly dramatic. Practice telling the IME about your symptoms. In fact, you can practice with friends and family before the IME exam.
#4 – Listen to your body and give accurate feedback
The IME doctor will perform tests and maneuvers that require your response. It’s very important to listen to your body. This way, you can give honest and accurate feedback. If a test or maneuver doesn’t, it’s alright to say it does not hurt. Similarly, if a test or maneuver produces symptoms, it’s important to describe them accurately.
#5 – Pay attention
Pay attention to the circumstances of your examination and take notes. Write down things like what time the examination begins and when it ends. Take notes of whether the examiners review medical records. Also write down how many examiners are present. Track and record if they use measurement devices or medical tools.
#6 – Plan to review the IME report with your attending provider
In most cases, L&I sends the IME report to your attending provider. However, attending providers don’t always receive it. If they didn’t – you must make sure they get the report. Your attending provider must review the IME report. It’s very important to see how your provider reacts to the report. Therefore, you must schedule an appointment with your attending provider a few weeks after the IME. This appointment will give you a chance to discuss the report. It’ll also give your attending provider an opportunity to respond to L&I.