One of the most significant events that occurs in Workers’ Compensation cases includes obtaining a medical evaluation by a Qualified Medical Examiner. This doctor has the important job of issuing a report regarding the cause of an applicant’s injuries and the extent of permanent disabilities, among other things. However, COVID-19 has disrupted the availability of medical evaluators and applicants for in-person evaluations.
As a result, the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) has announced an extension to its emergency regulations, which first became effective on May 14, 2020, that alleviates the hardships surrounding the medical evaluation process. Among the changes included in the emergency regulations is the option to conduct medical evaluations via video-conferencing instead of conducting them in-person. Avoiding in-person evaluations helps reduce unnecessary travel and exposure to COVID-19 for cases that do not absolutely require an in-person evaluation.
Further, the rules also extend the deadlines in which medical evaluators are required to schedule an appointment. Under the emergency rules, the deadline for an evaluator to schedule or reschedule a medical-legal exam is extended to 90 days from the normal 60 days. With physicians working less hours, having less staff available, and having to juggle the backlog of cases that COVID-19 has caused, the extension on deadlines helps to alleviate these problems. For the same reasons, the emergency rules also add 15 days to all deadlines to prepare and serve med-legal reports.
It appears the DWC believes the emergency rules will be needed until at least October 21, 2021, when the rules will expire. However, much like in the past, the DWC will have to consider extending the emergency rules again in October 2021 if the hardships caused by the pandemic continue.
As always, stay informed by checking our blog posts for up-to-date information on important developments in Workers’ Compensation laws.