State seeks to put the brakes on workers comp increases

Feb 9, 2012

After several years of steady decreases, Florida businesses have seen recent hikes in their workers’ compensation payments.  Tom Flanigan reports a house committee was trying to reverse that trend Thursday.

The Florida Legislature did a major revamp of the state’s workers’ compensation law back in 2003.  That resulted in steady rate decreases over the next several years.  But now rates are edging back up again.  A big driver of this increase, says Republican Representative Matt Hudson of Naples, is what the program is paying workers’ compensation doctors for what are called “repackaged drugs”.  Those are the drugs the doctors dispense in their offices to workers’ comp patients at what Hudson says are exorbitant rates.  His bill would limit those reimbursements and save what he says is an average of sixteen-dollars per prescription and reduce employers’ workers’ comp rates by nearly three-percent.

“Well the good news is that that $16 is multiplied through millions of prescriptions and so that’s where the savings comes from.  We’re not filling one prescription, we’re filling multiple prescriptions.  And two-and-a-half percent doesn’t sound like a lot on the surface, but in volume it’s a great deal.”

Just how great a deal are we talking about?

“The Office of Insurance Regulation estimates that it will be approximately $62 million savings that will go back into Florida businesses.”

Dr. Richard Johnson of Dunedin takes issue with that number.  He’s a certified occupational medicine physician.  He’s also one of many who spoke against Hudson’s bill before the House Health and Human Services Committee.

“There’s only $63 million of prescriptions written by doctors.  Total!   So to save that means we don’t write any.  So I’m against it.  I think it helps patient care, helps people get well faster, we give them their medicine, (they) go home, take your medicine, continue light duty.   Then they get better.  That’s why.”

Tom Panza with Automated Healthcare Solutions had a similar concern.

“In order to get the $62 million savings you would have to eliminate giving the prescriptions.  You would not be able to give the prescriptions.  There’s no other way to eliminate it, because those same people would go to the pharmacy and will pay on average $121 rather than $137.”

And there were a few committee opponents.  Such as Representative Elaine Schwartz, Democrat from Hollywood….

“The numbers don’t add up to me and I think there’s something else going on that I’m not comfortable with.  It may come out before it gets to the floor.”

But any concerns were overwhelmed by supporters, like Tammy Purdue with Associated Industries of Florida.  She told the committee that, whether or not the numbers added up, the numbers were still moving in the right direction as far as Florida business is concerned….

“Quick , cost-efficient and self-executing system and prompt delivery of benefits:  That is our goal here and every little piece of it that provides savings for employers must be provided because this system is so statutorily driven.”

And Tom Stahl with Florida United Business Association agreed the bottom line would be positive for companies struggling to contain costs.

“This is not going to reduce payments to doctors or pharmacists by two-percent.  It’s going to reduce what employers have to pay.”

Bill sponsor Representative Hudson said the ultimate beneficiaries would be those who depend on Florida’s workers’ comp program.

“This bill protects patients because now they have the freedom of choice.  They can choose to sit down with their physician  and receive their medication in the office where they trust their physician, where they’re guided by the physician and they’re hoping that their physician has done everything humanely possible to heal them, or they can at their convenience go to a drugstore if they would like.”

The committee passed Hudson’s bill and the measure has one more House committee to go before hitting the floor.  Meanwhile, the Senate is moving quickly on its own version.  Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has already pledged to cut the state’s workers’ comp rate by at least two-and-a-half percent if those bills become law.