COVID-19 continues to impact Washington State including people going through a workers’ compensation claim. However, the good news is that there are some temporary policies to help L&I claim related treatment progress. Additionally, the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals is working to move cases forward through telephonic hearings when practical.
L&I Workers’ Compensation Claim Administration
The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) continues to operate despite the impacts of COVID-19. Yet, it’s important to know that most L&I personnel currently work from home. If you need to communicate with your L&I claim manager, it’s better to use the secure messaging system than a phone call.
Similarly, most offices like mine have employees work remotely, except for one or two essential employees. That way, we can continue to process mail and L&I claim benefit checks even though our office is closed to the public.
Telehealth Treatment Options
L&I enacted some temporary policies to allow work injury claimants to continue with medical care during this unprecedented time. I already wrote about L&I’s existing telehealth policy and how homes can be temporarily a “origination site” for telehealth services. In addition, L&I is authorizing TeleSIMP and Telerehab services. On March 20, 2020, they announced that it will temporarily authorize rehabilitation services using telehealth. That means that physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists may use telehealth to provide treatment to patients in outpatient settings.
Furthermore, on March 25, 2020, L&I announced that it’s temporarily authorizing Structured Intensive Multidisciplinary Program or SIMP services through telehealth. This allows injured workers to continue benefiting from SIMP services while adhering to the Governor’s stay-at-home order. Again, it’s important to note the five requirements must be met for L&I to authorize telehealth. The only requirement that’s different due to COVID-19 is that work injury claimants may use home as an “origination site”.
The Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals
Two weeks before the Washington State Governor issued the stay-at-home order, the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (BIIA or Board) converted all proceedings to occur telephonically. If any party feels they would be prejudiced by telephonic proceedings, they may request postponement.
On top, Board judges also provide parties with extra time to schedule and confirm witnesses. That’s because workers’ compensation attorneys have to present medical testimony, in most of their cases. Currently (and for a very good reason), it’s very difficult to schedule time on doctors’ calendars.
Personal notes and conclusion
In summary, COVID-19 is certainly affecting workers’ compensation claims in Washington State. However, the system continues to work but with some alterations in communication and with some delays. If we all practice a little patience understanding, I’m confident that we can continue to move L&I claims forward. Above all, please stay safe and healthy.