Acupuncture, Chiropractors, and Workers’ Compensation

After an employee sustains a work-related injury, there are many steps that will need to be taken, ranging from paper work to reporting the injury to insurance company to reporting certain injuries to state and federal entities.  One of the most important steps is making sure that an employee receives proper medical treatment.  Although some medical treatment may involve addressing acute and emergent injuries, such as a broken arm, other treatment plans may include more long-term types of treatment, such as physical therapy.  Some workers may elect to pursue alternative treatments.  Two of these treatments are acupuncture or going to a chiropractor.

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine with roots in China.  With acupuncture, tiny needs are inserted into the patient’s skin at very particular, key points.  Practitioners of acupuncture believe that proper practice can alleviate stress or pain.  Under the California Labor Code 4600, acupuncture is recognized as a valid treatment for work-related injuries. The labor code provides that an authorized practitioner of acupuncture may apply to become certified as a health care organization to provide treatment to injured employees.

Chiropractic care is based on manipulating and realigning joints, especially those in the spine.  Practitioners believe that proper chiropractic care can help address disorders affecting nerves and muscles.  As with acupuncture, California Labor Code 4600 provides that chiropractic care is a valid treatment course for workers’ compensation.  Unfortunately, many employers have reported negative experiences with some chiropractors.  In the past, some unscrupulous chiropractors would continue to make sure the injured worker came back for as many treatments as possible to maximize the money he or she could make from the patient.  In response, California law now provides that chiropractic visits shall be capped at twenty four for each industrial injury, unless the employer authorizes additional visits.  This law was passed in response to the fact that past studies revealed that workers’ compensation cases involving chiropractic care often paid out more than thirty percent more than other cases, and tended to last longer.  The law is intended to address the fact that many chiropractors often recommend chiropractic care as a life long course of care, and some were attempting to draw out treatment far after was actually needed for the work related injury.

If you have questions about what type of care is appropriate or available for your injured worker, call us today.  We have extensive experience helping business owners understand their rights and responsibilities under California law.

Medical Marijuana and Workers’ Compensation

Medical marijuana is becoming more and more common across the United States, and California is no exception. Supporters of medical marijuana proclaim its effectiveness against diseases and chronic pain, and some studies support these claims. Some workers who have sustained work-related injuries are seeking treatment that may include medical marijuana. The use of medical marijuana as a treatment for work-related injuries and whether workers’ compensation covers this type of treatment is not yet resolved. Many states have come to different conclusions, and California does not yet have a definite answer.

 

In Cockrell v. Farmers Insurance, an injured worker had chronic pain from a work-related injury sustained while working at Farmers Insurance. The worker requested that his medical marijuana prescription, which was given to help deal with this pain, be covered by his workers’ compensation benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board held that California Health and Safety Code § 11362.7 protected Farmers Insurance from having to cover the medical marijuana. The WCAB based its ruling on the fact that the statute states that a health insurance provider is not liable for reimbursing for medical use of marijuana. However, the case was then sent back to the trial level to determine if a workers’ compensation carrier is a health insurance company, and whether it is accordingly exempt from covering medical marijuana claims.

 

Medical marijuana is further complicated by the fact that marijuana is illegal under federal law, and is classified as a Schedule I drug.  An employer should therefore be cautious when an injured worker returns to work if he or she has a prescription for medical marijuana. It is difficult to determine whether a worker is “impaired” under the use of marijuana. While this could also be said of other pain relievers, such as opioids, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, an employer should be certain to take extra precautions to make sure all workers are safe. Employers should also make sure to review their policies in place to make sure they are current with the latest in state and federal guidelines about the use of medical marijuana in the workplace and whether medical marijuana is covered under workers’ compensation claims.

 

If you have questions about medical marijuana and workers’ compensation, call me today at (714) 516-8188. This is an unresolved area of law and you need an experienced attorney working with you to protect your business.

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