The absurdity of Arkansas State’s workers’ compensation rules came into the national spotlight this month when the Workers’ Comp Commission denied an injured worker’s request to see a new doctor – even after the physician attending to that worker died.
Lauren Eason, an Arkansas woman receiving workers compensation for a knee injury, requested a change of physicians in 2011, at which time she transferred to the care of Dr. Harold Chakales. Under Arkansas law, a worker can only change physicians once; so when Dr. Chakales passed away in December, the Workers’ Compensation Commission sent Eason a letter notifying her that they “cannot approve another change in this claim. We are constrained by the law.”
“We’re just kind of in workers’ comp limbo,” Eason said.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission, Alan McClain, the case presents some sticky legal challenges and administrative impediments, but McClain remained hopeful that the case could be resolved before long. “There seems to be maybe at least some to getting that order entered,” McClain told a reported. “But practically speaking [Eason] should be able to see a doctor really soon and we can facilitate that communication … it could take six months. But that’s the long end of it. It would probably be closer to three months.”
Workers Compensation commentators were quick to weigh in on the situation: “Surely the state can do better for these people than a nightmarish 3 to 6 month administrative wait,” said Robert Wilson. “I certainly do understand that the law is the law, but I also recognize common sense is common sense.”
Eason’s attorney pointed out that the problem is not just isolated to his client noting that more than 100 injured workers are in a similar state of limbo due to rules restricting a change of physician request.
McClain did note the Arkansas State House has been looking into changing the existing law regarding injured workers’ ability to change their physicans: but ironically, rather than loosening restrictions, they have been considering a complete ban on claimants changing physicians at all.
Whether these rules go into effect remains to be seen. In the meanwhile, Eason will have to endure her knee injury, as her old phsician will not be returning to the office before this case gets resolved.