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WA Bill Aims to Stop Invasive Medical Exams after Workplace Injuries

A bill in the Washington Sstate Legislature would reform how, and how many, medical exams are performed after someone suffers a workplace injury. (Esther Max/Flickr)
A bill in the Washington Sstate Legislature would reform how, and how many, medical exams are performed after someone suffers a workplace injury. (Esther Max/Flickr)
February 14, 2020

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington state Legislature is looking into the issue of independent medical exams that people have to undergo when they're injured at work.

After injuring his back on the job, Michael Wickoren had to have two surgeries. He also had six independent medical exams over two-and-a-half years to determine if his claim of a workplace injury was true. Wickoren was a Boeing employee for 30 years and near the end of his career as a technician. After his injury, Wickoren said he believes doctors performing the exams, known as IMEs, mostly downplayed the injury so the company could deny him benefits.

"They at one point tried to call my back injury a sprain at one of my IMEs," he said, "and my doctor, his reply was, 'Really? Swedish Hospital does surgery on sprains? Auburn General Hospital does surgery on sprains?' "

Wickoren testified about his experience in January, as state lawmakers consider reforming the IME process. Opponents of Senate Bill 6440 have pushed back on a provision allowing workers to record the examinations. Senators are expected to vote on it today.

Kathryn Comfort was Wickoren's attorney in his pursuit to get his injury recognized. Comfort said another injured client has had 12 medical exams in the past two years. One of the aims of the bill in Olympia is to put limits on the number of IMEs, but Comfort said the deck is stacked against workers and their personal doctors in hopes that they will give up their claim.

"Where you have six doctors against one supportive attending physician," she said, "it can be very intimidating to pursue your case and get benefits."

Comfort noted that many of the provisions in the bill, including recording examinations, are offered to victims in other cases, such as in a car accident.

"Injured workers should be entitled to the same protection that other injury victims, or people who get hurt by the negligence of other people, have," she said. "They should all be on a level playing field -- and, right now, they're not."

The text of SB 6440 is online at lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA