I am often asked by an injured worker if they can move out of state if they have an open Labor & Industries claim. The quick and easy answer is, ‘of course’! You can live anywhere you choose. Sometimes workers relocate because of a spouse’s job opportunities. Sometimes it is a weather related choice (less rain, anyone?) Sometimes it is a desire or need to be with family. The bottom line is you can move whenever you want, for whatever reason. Your claim will not be closed, if you are entitled to benefits they will continue.
That’s the good news. As you might expect, there are some challenges to be faced if you choose to relocate out of state. First and foremost, you must have a treating medical provider. Just like when you are in Washington, the responsibility of finding and choosing an attending medical provider is the workers. Just like when you are in Washington, the medical provider must have or be willing to get an L&I provider number, so they can bill the Department and be recognized as the attending provider. (Have the physician’s office call the provider hotline to find out about a provider number 800-848-0811) Out of state medical providers may be reluctant to take on a workers compensation patient from another jurisdiction. It may take some persistence and follow up to find a willing physician.
Some suggestions: Talk to your attending medical provider before you move. Get any recommendations or leads they may be able to suggest to locate a physician in your new location. Physicians belong to networks, and have colleagues all over the country, particularly in their specialty. They may be able to help with the transition.
Ask your claims manager for a list of physicians in your new city who already have a provider number. This will give you a list to work from of providers who have had at least some contact with our L&I system. They may be currently treating a Washington injured worker, or may have treated someone in the past. In either event, it is a starting point.
The Office of the Medical Director at the Department has been and continues to do outreach to out of state physicians to provided education and information about our system. There has been a concerted effort to bring in networks of physicians, particularly in locations where there seems to be a high number of relocated Washington injured workers. (Florida, California and Arizona come to mind) If you are having trouble locating a new physician don’t hesitate to contact the Medical Director’s office and ask for help. While you are ultimately responsible for locating a physician, the Medical Director’s office may be able to offer some guidance and assistance.
The other unexpected disruption in your claim from an out of state move may be when or if the Department decides they need an IME. Efforts are made to find a qualified examiner where you are living. Your attending medical provider may be asked to refer you for a consultation, or recommend a qualified physician for an exam. However, the Department may choose to have you return to Washington for a medical exam. The Department will arrange and pay for necessary transportation, lodging and a per diem for food as necessary. Work with the scheduler and your Claims Manager to reduce the inconvenience as much as possible, but know you risk suspension of benefits if you refuse to cooperate with such an exam.
Vocational services, including assessments and retraining if you are found eligible, can be provided if you relocate out of state. A local vocational counselor will be assigned if possible, or the Department may assign a Washington VRC to work on your claim. Whatever testing or evaluation is required can be done without returning to Washington. Schools and training programs will have to meet Department guidelines for providing training, and will have to get their own provider numbers to facilitate billing for their services. (Topic for another day; Issues may arise where an employer offers their injured worker a light duty, transitional or even a permanent position, where the worker has relocated out of state. These are complicated situations which may well result in termination of time loss benefits. Get yourself some legal advice if you suspect these issues may arise.)
Lastly, just a heads up – The Department will transfer management of your claim to a Claims Manager in the out of state unit. This is nothing more than a work flow change. CM’s in this unit have experience managing claims where the worker has moved out of state. They try to make the transition as smooth and seamless as possible. It does not mean your claim has been elevated to some problem status, or that the issues will necessarily become more contentious or adversarial. Although, as always, if issues do heat up or become difficult to manage from afar, get yourself a Washington workers compensation attorney. You will find attorneys who regularly represent injured workers in this state are adept at dealing with clients who live all over the country.