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Workers' Compensation Blog

Hearings on the Horizon!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Covid-19 has changed the way we communicate as a community and a culture. This is also true for businesses and governments; these entities have had to quickly adapt into the age of virtual communications. When the pandemic hit, the Workers’ Compensation Commission was in the process of dramatically upgrading their online portal, and in just a short few weeks, the Commission had to pivot from that undertaking and all regular functions to create a system for virtual hearings, and revamp safety procedures for when they return to live hearings, which may happen as early as June 8, 2020.

New Protocols To Be Aware Of For Live Hearings coming in June:

Preparation: Exhibits are submitted electronically, to the Commission, 3 days prior to the scheduled hearing date. Therefore, attorneys may ask clients to electronically sign necessary documents in advance to comply with social distancing requirements. In addition, to comply with the physical distancing protocols at the hearing site, it is best that all hearing preparation be done over the telephone or via video calls prior to the hearing date.

  • Schedule: Hearings will be staggered in twenty-minute slots to accommodate social distancing and only the participants of the scheduled hearing will be permitted in the courtroom at that time.

  • Who: Only parties, injured workers, witnesses and attorneys will be permitted into the hearing sites, therefore if someone is accompanying you to the hearing they will probably have to wait outside or in your vehicle.

  • Where: All hearing sites will be open for live hearings. Any person entering the hearing site will be required to wear a mask and practice social distancing protocols, including between attorneys and their clients.

What If I am Not Comfortable Attending A Hearing In-Person?

The Commission has adopted a liberal policy for granting continuances due to illness or other hardships. The Commission will also offer the possibility of virtual hearings. While it is wonderful that the opportunity exists to participate in a virtual hearing, the process is not appropriate for every case, and can only happen if all parties give consent. It is best to talk to your attorney if you are interested in having a virtual hearing on your case.

What To Consider Before Requesting A Virtual Hearing:

  • Consensus: All parties in the case must agree to perform the hearing virtually. This means that even if the injured worker and their attorney want to have a virtual hearing, it won’t be done virtually unless the Employer and Insurance company representatives also agree.

  • Technology: A good internet connection and a computer with a video camera is required. In some cases, audio can be done through a telephone, but all participants must also have live video. To run the programs successfully all participants must have the latest versions of either Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge and the only platform the Commission is allowing for hearings is Microsoft Teams. It is best to download the Teams App prior to hearing day, rather than accessing it through the web.

  • Process: If your case is approved for a virtual hearing, all participants will receive an email invite from the court reporter, which will include the date and time the hearing is scheduled and an email link to the video hearing.

Whichever platform you choose, it is comforting to know that the Workers’ Compensation Commission is working hard to adapt and provide safe access for those in need. However, in our new normal, remember that it is important to be prepared, be flexible and to check for possible updates and changes.

Attorney Julie Mirman

Written by Julie Mirman, an Associate Attorney with Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby, specializing in medical treatment coverage under workers' compensation.
Julie Mirman
jmirman@bsgfdlaw.com

Great News; The Ban On Medical Treatment Has Lifted!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

It has been over six weeks since Governor Hogan banned elective and non-urgent medical procedures in the State of Maryland. However, the question which remained was, "Is it elective to have an epidural shot or surgery if I am in a tremendous amount of pain?" Well, no need to answer this question any longer, with Governor Hogan's recent order effective Thursday May 7, 2020, medical practices are now permitted to accept patients in-person for treatment. While the decision about which procedures are appropriate to perform, and which patients should be seen are left to the independent professional judgment of the provider, the Secretary of Health, Robert Neall, issued a directive regarding practice requirements.

The order requires that any healthcare facility that chooses to open must have the appropriate supply of PPE, social distancing requirements must be strictly maintained in all settings where people must wait, and all healthcare workers, patients and others must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival for shifts or visits. Even with these requirements it seems many providers are already opening their doors and scheduling those appointments that have been pending since the closures began. Hopefully, those in pain can finally get some relief!

Attorney Julie Mirman

Written by Julie Mirman, an Associate Attorney with Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby, specializing in medical treatment coverage under workers' compensation.
Julie Mirman
jmirman@bsgfdlaw.com

Workers’ Compensation Hearings Update as of April 17, 2020; Covid-19

Monday, April 20, 2020

True to their mission, the Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) is continually trying to balance the interests of the injured worker with that of the health and safety of the community at large. Therefore, in response to the recent extension of court closings by Chief Judge Barbera of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the WCC has also announced a postponement of all in-person Commission hearings until June 8, 2020.

The Commission, however, is now in the final stages of establishing the availability of video hearings utilizing the Microsoft Teams virtual platform. All parties involved must agree to continue with the hearing virtually. If all parties do not agree to meet virtually, the hearing will just resume in the normal course, in-person at a later date.

This is a tremendous endeavor by the Commissioners and staff and will go a long way to help get our injured workers the benefits they need and deserve during this difficult time. We applaud the efforts of the Commission as they roll out this new “virtual” court system. There will be glitches along the way, but this will certainly support clearing some of the backlog that continues to accumulate on the hearing dockets.

Attorney Julie Mirman

Written by Julie Mirman, an Associate Attorney with Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby, specializing in medical treatment coverage under workers' compensation.
Julie Mirman
jmirman@bsgfdlaw.com

Workers’ Compensation Hearings and the Maryland Courts Update as of April 15, 2020; Covid-19

Friday, April 17, 2020

Unfortunately, since our last court update, two weeks ago, COVID-19 cases have risen significantly in Maryland. This information reaffirms our states’ decision to social distance and work from home, wherever possible. Our online legal work is bustling between virtual mediations, depositions and motion writing. Thankfully, we have learned to navigate virtually because another extension of court closures were issued for the entire State of Maryland yesterday.

This new order extends court closings until June 8, 2020. The Administrative Judge in Montgomery County issued an order of extension while encouraging parties to seek resolution of cases collaboratively or through mediation. The reality of the situation is that even if the courts open in the beginning of June the courts still will not be fully operational for several months after that.

Therefore, what does this mean for your case? If you are still treating for your condition, many insurance companies are authorizing virtual treatment or office visits, when possible. If you are waiting for a hearing on permanency, some doctor’s have agreed to conduct independent medical exams virtually, but in this new climate it is unclear what weight the Commissioners may give these reports. Now may be a good time to participate in a mediation or agree to a settlement, if appropriate in your case.

Talk to your Attorney regarding your best options and if you or a family member have been afflicted with Covid-19 and feel you were infected with this virus at work please read the previous blog from Ken Berman regarding important steps to follow: http://www.bsgfdlaw.com/workers-compensation-blog/what-to-do-if-you-are-exposed-to-the-coronavirus-at-work.

Attorney Julie Mirman

Written by Julie Mirman, an Associate Attorney with Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby, specializing in medical treatment coverage under workers' compensation.
Julie Mirman
jmirman@bsgfdlaw.com

Workers’ Compensation Commission Hearings & Maryland Courts Update: Covid-19

Monday, March 30, 2020

Maryland is strong in the face of adversity. The videos and messages on social media, the courage and strength of our first responders, health care workers, essential employees, and volunteers and the communities that support them are inspiring and heartwarming during these unprecedented times. New information is released daily in this ever-changing climate of uncertainty and therefore, on Wednesday, Governor Hogan announced an extension of his previous Executive Order, which extends school and non-essential business closure, in an effort to protect the work, sacrifice and progress that has already been accomplished. In addition, to the Governors’ orders, Chief Judge Barbera of the Maryland Court of Appeals also issued an Emergency Administrative Order extension applicable to all Maryland Courts. The courts will remain closed until May 4, 2020.

In concert with these orders the Workers’ Compensation Commission will continue to remain closed to the public. The Commission will continue to hear cases on an emergency basis, only by appointment at the Baltimore or Beltsville hearing sites. The Commission will also continue to rule on settlements and stipulations, submitted in writing. When the Commission resumes public operations on May 4, 2020, they will set cases that were postponed by Executive Order back in on a priority basis and will maintain a morning and afternoon docket. The good news is the insurance companies are up and running, therefore injured workers should continue to receive their medical treatment and medication approvals and temporary total disability payments via check or direct deposit, when eligible. All cases that were scheduled for court dates either in the Circuit Court, if the Workers’ Compensation case is on appeal, or at the Commission will be reset for a date after May 4, 2020. The Workers’ Compensation Commission of Maryland asks for patience and cooperation while they continue to balance the well-being of the community with the needs of injured workers.

Attorney Julie Mirman

Written by Julie Mirman, an Associate Attorney with Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby, specializing in medical treatment coverage under workers' compensation.
Julie Mirman
jmirman@bsgfdlaw.com

Best Practices for Injured Workers’ During Covid-19:

Monday, March 23, 2020

It seems the world has stopped spinning as most people keep to their homes and neighborhoods. As the days tick by it is difficult to determine, where it is okay to go. For injured workers’, recovering from an accident, this question becomes even more difficult to answer since they might still be receiving active treatment. Doctor’s offices and rehab facilities are doing their best to stay open and sanitized, but the CDC is recommending staying home and only going out when it is absolutely necessary. We all want to do our part to flatten the curve. As an injured worker it is challenging to balance the need for medical care with keeping oneself and ones family and community safe from transmission of the virus. While it is always best to check with a treating physician on which treatments to continue and which to hold off from, here are a few tips on how to help yourself while at home:

  • Home Exercise - Now would be a great time to work on those exercises that most physical therapists and doctors have prescribed. Transition a space in your home for exercising and set up a schedule to ensure your diligence in maintaining a consistent routine for your physical fitness. There are also many online videos for stretching and strengthening that you can utilize, which do not require any equipment. Check out YouTube for a wide range of free exercise videos.
  • Rest – Use this time as an opportunity to catch up on that rest and recovery that the doctor ordered. Catch up on those television shows that everyone always talks about or dust off the old board games and spend some quality time with the family.
  • Patience – You might be waiting for a decision on medical coverage or permanency payments or at this point your hearing might have been postponed with no new date set. Currently the Workers’ Compensation hearing sites are closed to the public until at least April 6, 2020, outside of specially set emergency hearings. When the courts resume there may be a backlog causing additional delays and we are limited in options to speed up the process. Please be patient, we are all in this together; Now more than ever, it takes a village.
Attorney Julie Mirman

Written by Julie Mirman, an Associate Attorney with Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby, specializing in medical treatment coverage under workers' compensation.
Julie Mirman
jmirman@bsgfdlaw.com

The Courts Are Closed Due To COVID-19; What About My Workers’ Compensation Case?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

In Maryland, most of the Judiciary systems have shut down or postponed their dockets, or are operational only for exigent circumstances. The Workers' Compensation Commission, while in solidarity with the mission to slow the spread of Covid-19, is also keenly aware of the need to keep certain Workers' Compensation cases moving along. While all scheduled hearings have been postponed through April 3rd, if an emergency hearing was already filed before the closing was announced, those cases will still be heard on a limited scheduled.

Also, all emergency hearings will either take place in the Baltimore or Beltsville Commission sites only. Hearings can still be requested, however we do not yet know when they will take place. In the meantime, our office has been working remotely and using creative ways to keep cases moving with the use of online conferencing and remote mediations. For now, the Commission is continuing to receive settlements and stipulations for approval, and we are working hard to resolve cases to help our clients. We will frequently update our blogs with the most up to date information and advice on how to handle your workers' compensation needs during COVID-19.

HELP - My Attorney Retired, Won the Lottery, Passed Away, Moved to Hawaii; What Should I Do?

Friday, March 06, 2020

I know, it’s hard to believe, but lawyers are only human. We retire, pass away or sometimes even get promoted to judge. For whatever the reason an Attorney is no longer able to represent a client what are the clients’ options? Nobody likes to start over, establishing trust, getting a new representative up to speed and explaining a long case history can be overwhelming. Here are a few suggestions that might make the process less daunting.

The first step is to contact the law firm that your attorney was affiliated with and find out if there is anyone else in the firm that practices this specialty and/or has the capacity to take on your case. You can schedule a meeting with the managing partner of that firm to ascertain the next steps. However, often the firm does not have the capacity to take on more cases or your previous attorney may have been the only specialist in that area of law. If the firm is not able to take you on as a client, then it is wise to request a copy of your file if you will be seeking representation elsewhere.

If your attorney was a private practitioner or there is no other attorney in that practice who can handle your case, then the second step is to ask if the firm could give you a referral. This will help narrow the playing field. Often attorneys have colleagues that are in different practice areas and they might know who could be a good fit and competent to continue with your case. Keep in mind, if you choose to change your attorney because you are seeking different representation, the attorneys themselves may come to an agreement regarding fee sharing if there was work the previous attorney did prior to your change in attorneys. This fee sharing should not affect the client in anyway, it should be a sharing of the fees that one attorney would be entitled to on your case regardless of, which attorney is your representative.

Lastly, if you have exhausted the previous options or just want a fresh set of eyes on your case the third step would be to call your local bar association in the County/City in which you live or the jurisdiction where the case takes place. Most bar associations have a lawyer referral service and can help guide your search.

Attorney Julie Mirman

Written by Julie Mirman, an Associate Attorney with Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby, specializing in medical treatment coverage under workers' compensation.
Julie Mirman
jmirman@bsgfdlaw.com

Are They Going to Stop My Pain Medicine?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Current State of Affairs:

It is not a secret that there is an opioid crisis in this country. In recent months there has been a push by government to help cure this crisis. There are reports that pharmacies are in short supply of many opioid medications, and many doctors have refused to prescribe them at all anymore for fear of losing their medical license. There is no question that something has to be done, but the hope is that potential regulations and government referendums enact a holistic response to this epidemic. Sufferers need alternatives to pain pills and support to wean down from the addictive medicines.

Workers' Compensation and the Opioid Epidemic:

To an injured worker with extreme pain due to an accidental injury or an occupational disease the news can seem terrifying. Federal and state regulations seem to have taken an extreme attitude while examining doctors and dispensing pharmacies under a microscope. While regulations will have a beneficial impact on helping the crisis, the process in getting there may create greater hardship along the way. Many workers' compensation claimants do not know where to turn and are just waiting in fear that their medications will be cut off. Some insurance companies have stepped up and taken the problem head on. They have reviewed their client base and flagged those cases where the opioid level is very high and offered many kinds of treatment options to help a client manage their pain regimen.

However, other insurance companies are trying to cut medication doses that are not dangerously high and do not offer to pay for alternative treatments under the ‘guise' of helping the claimant get off their medications because they ‘care'. I have been in court too many times with issues of weaning off opioids, for the good of the claimant, and the insurance company is refusing to pay for alternative pain treatments or medications that are beneficial. This tactic goes against the very purpose that workers' compensation laws were enacted, but there is hope. The Workers' Compensation Commission understands that many injured workers' have severe injuries and will likely need to continue opioid use in lower dosages and will order alternative treatments and weaning programs in the appropriate circumstances.

What Should I Do if I am on Opioids?

The focus of late is to wean down not wean off and this should let injured workers' breathe a sigh of relief. Stopping narcotic medication ‘cold turkey' can cause grave implications on patients' organs as well as negative psychiatric effects due to the rapid increase in pain levels and withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, it is important to either participate in a proper weaning program or to work with your doctor to devise a safe and effective treatment plan. Without the proper support in place reducing these medications may feel impossible. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) categorizes a morphine equivalent dosage of opioids over 90mg as high and the recommendation is to wean down below 90mg.

The Workers' Compensation Commission has often ordered the insurance company to pay for alternative methods of pain management and outpatient weaning programs to support claimants' efforts in balancing an active lifestyle with lower levels of pain medications. The best thing to do is to talk to your pain management provider. Come up with a plan together to wean slowly down on your opioid use to find a manageable dose. Make sure that your pain management clinic is abiding by CDC guidelines in managing your opioid use and that your provider is communicating with your workers' compensation insurance provider so that you are receiving the authorization and approval for needed treatment. Many times insurance companies will deny benefits simply because the provider is not communicating the treatment plan with them or responding to inquiries.

Can I Choose My Own Pharmacy?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

If I can choose my own doctor can I choose my own pharmacy?

Several times a week we receive calls from clients that they are at their local pharmacy and their prescription was denied. This can often be the pharmacy that will not call the insurance adjuster, the insurance adjuster that does not respond or confusion over the mandatory waiting period to fill narcotic prescriptions. The result is frustration by all parties involved and an onslaught of misinformation ultimately resulting in the delay of much needed prescriptions.

What can I do to avoid this?

To alleviate this stress often clients will choose to use a mail order pharmacy. The mail order pharmacy usually takes the guess work out of why a prescription is denied. The mail order pharmacy is more likely to trouble shoot, call the adjuster directly and even reach out to doctors when a letter of medical necessity is required. Your local pharmacy may be too busy or overwhelmed to make all of these calls on your behalf. The downside is when you are filling opioids or narcotics such as oxycodone or oxycotin there are additional steps that may need to be taken.

With the many restrictions recently put in place to prevent opioid overdoses it may take an extra step or two depending on what medication you are taking. One of these restrictions is the requirement that the physical prescription must be sent to the pharmacy. These restricted medications are not permitted to be e-filed except in limited circumstances or with specific certifications. However, most mail order pharmacies have made it as easy as possible to alleviate the burden on the client. For example, they will provide UPS overnight envelopes to the doctor to overnight the prescription. Also, they recommend you see your doctor a few days before your refill is due and the doctor can post date the prescription, that way by the time the pharmacy receives the prescription it is on the day when the medication can be filled and the pharmacy will overnight the medication with no cost to you.

Can I choose my own pharmacy?

Over the past several years there have been frequent news worthy items regarding pharmaceutical contracts between insurance companies and pharmacies. These contracts allow a specific insurer to provide medications to the insured for less money if the specific pharmacy is used. Often the discount can be as great as 30% less the average wholesale price of the medication. Since the pharmacy is dealing on a very large scale they are able to provide this discount. Depending on the Insurance Company they will allow you to choose your pharmacy, but they will only pay out at the negotiated rate, very similar to doctor's taking the Maryland Workers' Compensation Rate.

While this issue is still being decided in the courts most insurance companies will payout at the charged rate by the pharmacy. It is best to find a mail order pharmacy that serves the Workers' Compensation community exclusively. Often they will forgive the amounts that the insurance company refuses to pay or that the commission will not award and always be aware that the pharmacy is not charging any additional filling fees.

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