W. Va. Amendment Updates Care for Injured Workers

December 15, 2004

The Workers’ Compensation Board of Managers on Tuesday took a significant step toward assuring a higher standard of care for injured West Virginia workers compared to those hurt on the job in other states.

The Board voted to approve an amendment to the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s rule on the Medical Management of Claims. With the amendment, West Virginia becomes the first state in the country to establish specific guidelines for functional capacity evaluations, or FCEs, which measure the worker’s physical abilities to perform essential job duties.

“We’re trying to create a standard in West Virginia that no other state has,” Dr. James Becker, the Commission’s medical director, told board members. “Passage of this amendment assures the quality of these examinations. That, in turn, protects injured workers by giving us a true measure of their capabilities at that point in time.”

FCEs historically have been performed by physical and occupational therapists. Under the amendment approved Tuesday, nationally certified athletic trainers and exercise physiologists, medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy and chiropractors also may perform the exams, if approved by the Commission.

Other provisions of the amendment focus on work conditioning and work hardening occupational rehabilitation programs. These programs assist injured workers with unresolved physical, functional, behavioral and vocational needs following acute care. The treatment focus of these programs is aimed at restoration of work-related function, directed either toward the worker’s former job or toward new employment opportunities.

Further provisions outline the Commission’s authority to suspend benefits to injured workers if they refuse, without good cause, to undergo or fully participate in examinations or needed medical treatments.

The amendment will go into effect Feb. 1.

In other business Tuesday, the Board of Managers adopted a resolution to recommend to the Legislature a plan of rate classifications under development by the Commission and the National Council on Compensation Insurance.

Thirty-five other states – including the surrounding states of Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky and Ohio – use NCCI’s classification system to group businesses whose workers are exposed to similar hazards. Each classification code is then assigned a premium rate for workers’ compensation coverage.

The Legislature ordered the Commission to study adoption of the NCCI system as part of Senate Bill 2013.

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