Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf | Governor Tom Wolf

HARRISBURG – A bill set to completely change the way in which prescription drugs are distributed and provided to injured workers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was recently vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf, who said the bill’s aims ran “counter to the impact [the state] has made with injured workers.”

The governor’s veto came 11 days after the legislation was sent to his desk.

First receiving passage in the state Senate last October, Senate Bill 936 was approved in the state House of Representatives on April 16 on its second attempt, by a final vote of 101 to 92.

Its author, Sen. Donald C. White (R–41), and fellow Republican lawmakers who co-signed S.B. 936 indicated in a legislative memo that the bill focused on the topic of opioid abuse and sought to stop law firms and doctors from profiting off medicines prescribed to their clients and patients.

S.B. 936 called for the selection of a “nationally-recognized, evidence-based prescription drug formulary appropriate for resolving issues related to drugs prescribed for or related to the treatment of work-related injuries, including, but not limited to, the type, dosage and duration of prescriptions.”

The most recent iteration of S.B. 936 was introduced in October, after media reports that Workers’ Compensation attorneys and pain management physicians directed their clients and patients to pharmacies in which they stood to profit from ownership interest, then billed their employers’ insurance providers for expensive and federally-unapproved pain management cream tubes to the tune of $4,000 or more per tube.

Prior to the House of Representatives taking its vote in April, it was revealed in a Philadelphia Inquirer story that the governor’s campaign had received $1.1 million in campaign contributions from a political action committee called “Fairness PA” – one which Schroder says is “connected to those perpetuating the same workers’ compensation and pharmaceutical scams that S.B. 936 seeks to address.”

Through his Press Secretary J.J. Abbott, Gov. Wolf issued the following statement on his veto of S.B. 936:

“Make no mistake, Senate Bill 936 is not a bill designed to fight the opioid crisis. Senate Bill 936 threatens health care for millions of workers who could be injured on the job, including police, corrections officers, and firefighters, who put their lives on the line every day, and whose injuries can be unique, debilitating and severe. It is wrong to sacrifice health care for our first responders to protect the bottom-line for insurance companies and corporations.

“My administration has outlined a number of executive and legislative actions that can be taken immediately to address the rising misuse and overprescribing of opioids in the health care system, including Workers’ Compensation. Implementing those actions is my top priority.”

Prior to the veto, Scranton-based attorney Todd O’Malley of O’Malley Langan expressed opposition to the bill and called on Gov. Wolf to reject the intent of the legislation.

Curt Schroder, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR), however, criticized Gov. Wolf’s recent veto of S.B. 936.

“As a result of Governor’s Wolf's veto of SB 936, expect to see plaintiffs’ law firms opening pharmacies across Pennsylvania as they try to cash in on billing injured workers for prescriptions, in addition to taking a third of their recovery,” Schroder said.

“The governor’s proposed “executive action” does not eliminate the scam involving compounded pain creams. The governor proposes that compounded creams be billed at the ingredient level as opposed to allowing the current practice of charging thousands of dollars to continue. Yet in the same breath he states these compounds ‘are of unknown safety and efficacy’ and that there are lingering questions about the appropriateness of opioid compounds!”

Schroder shared his opinion that all Gov. Wolf is appearing to do, through the veto, is “possibly lower the cost of these compounds while offering no protection to injured workers from the quacks perpetuating this scam.”

“Gov. Wolf’s plan to take ‘executive action’ to address opioid prescriptions for injured workers, is simply cover for his veto of S.B. 936. Although we have seen no executive order, nor have we seen specifics of what the governor has in mind, it is clear the governor had no plans to protect injured workers from opioid abuse until the legislature sent SB 936 to his desk and forced his hand. Let’s not forget, ‘executive actions’ do not carry the force of law and can be overturned by this governor or any successor,” Schroder said.

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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