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Legislators Referee Among Competing Business Interests | Lloyd Brown

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Legislators Referee Among Competing Business Interests | Lloyd Brown

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Legislators Referee Among Competing Business Interests
Monday, February 27, 2012 — Lloyd Brown

Much of the legislation that passes through the sausage factory in the state Capitol is related to internecine warfare between various business interests.

Thus, lawyers and insurance companies, doctors and pharmacists, optometrists and ophthalmologists, bankers and credit unions always are tussling for a greater share of the profits.

No problem. That’s what businesses do. But legislators, especially those that have no business experience, are caught in the middle trying to weigh the issues and determine those that will best serve the public interest.

Usually, the impetus of a bill is that it will save the state money and, therefore, save the taxpayers money.

That is the claim behind SB 668, but it is a suspect claim.

Workers compensation is a complex issue. The idea behind it is to save money by avoiding litigation when a worker is injured on the job. It is in the best interest of employers and employees to get the worker back on the job as quickly as possible.

Insurance companies direct the injured worker to doctors who take workers compensation cases. There are almost 20,000 in Florida. About 5,500 doctors also dispense prescriptions, although not all of those are workers compensation doctors.

Proponents of the bill say doctors charge more and they want to cap the price doctors can charge.

But the claims of savings are squirrelly. They not only have been varied in amounts, but suspect in their validity.

Doctors charge more because unlike large drug chains they cannot individually buy in bulk. Instead they buy what is called repackaged drugs.

Opponents of the bill, however, say that true difference in cost is about $16 per prescription.

But that, they say, is offset by the fact that more workers will actually use the drugs, recover sooner and get back to work sooner. Some 30 percent of people who get prescriptions from doctors never get the prescriptions filled. Not taking medication can cause the workers to take longer to recover.

The bill was approved by the Senate Health Regulation Committee Wednesday with two amendments that made it better. One would roll back workers comp rates 2.5 percent and the other would give insurance companies a credit on doctor-dispensed drugs that cost more than $25.

A similar bill was enacted in 2010 but vetoed by the governor.

Perhaps the best argument opponents have is this: Insurance companies already can control the cost. They have a choice of sending injured workers either to a dispensing doctor or a non-dispensing doctor. If it really would save money, they would not use dispensing doctors.

But they do.

That seems to undercut the premise behind the bill rather severely.

Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.

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