Almost four dozen Iowans gathered in the Iowa House tonight to air their opinions on a bill which would give workers injured on the job the right to choose their own doctor rather than go to the doctor chosen by their employer.

Iowa Federation of Labor president Ken Sagar argued many companies are delaying or denying care to an injured worker. "Workers can’t help but feel that the company doctor has the company’s interests at heart rather than the worker’s interests," Sagar said. "…We believe that workers have a right to make decisions about their own health care."

Dr. Doug Martin, medical director of the center for occupational health at St. Luke’s Hospital in Sioux City, argued that few primary care doctors have the training to deal with the injuries that occur in the workplace. "You should also be asking yourself a question of how an obstetrician is going to put a cast on a broken bone or suture a complex hand laceration," Martin said.

According to Iowa Association of Business and Industry chairman Charles Sukup of Sheffield, disputes over a company-chosen physician are rare. "Because employees are truly the most valuable asset to any successful business, the system provides a built-in incentive to the employer to find the very best medical care, " Sukup said. "We use doctors that specialize in the treatment of occupational injuries."

But others told stories about the care they’d been denied. Thirty-three-year-old Eric Duffy said he was injured at the Swift plant in Marshalltown and was initially treated by a company doctor. "The company doctor referred me to a surgeon. The company attorney then held a conference call with the company doctor and although nothing had changed with my injury, the next day the doctor wrote a letter to the attorney stating that none of my hand, wrist or arm problems were work-related," Duffy said. "A few days later I saw a surgeon who said I needed surgery to fix the carpal tunnel on both hands as well as the tendonitis in my right wrist." After seven months, the company relented and paid Duffy’s claim.

Democrats on the House Labor Committee cited the stories from Duffy and others like him as they endorsed the bill which would get rid of the system which allows Iowa companies to choose the doctors who treat their workers’ injuries. If the bill becomes law, employees may designate a doctor of their choice who they’d see if they’re injured at work.  

The bill, which passed the House Labor Committee shortly before 9:30 p.m., must next be considered by the full House, but it’s unclear when that may happen or if Democrats have the 51 "yes" votes needed to pass the bill. In February, another labor-related bill debated in the House failed by one vote.