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Published January 29 2013

Forum editorial: WSI pain legislation is painful

Nearly every examining room in North Dakota hospitals and clinics features a “pain chart.” It’s usually a scale of one to 10 that asks a patient to judge the intensity of his/her pain, with one the least painful, 10 the most. The chart is a useful tool for doctors to help patients gauge pain and then follow up with appropriate treatments.

Apparently that’s not good enough for the people at Workforce Safety and Insurance, the state’s workers’ compensation agency. A bill in the Legislature would all but eliminate a worker’s assessment of pain, and rely instead on some sort of clinical measure to determine if a work-related injury or condition was painful enough to warrant benefits. The idea, of course, is to find yet another way for WSI to deny benefits to injured North Dakota workers.

Pain is difficult to measure. But pain is the body’s initial way of warning that something is wrong. Pain has both physical and psychological components, and both components must be considered when analyzing pain as it relates to direct work-related injuries or workplace conditions that might cause chronic pain over time. It is cynical and medically inappropriate to dismiss or minimize a worker’s description of his/her pain simply because it can’t be measured precisely by a machine or linked definitively to obvious trauma.

Furthermore, the legislation discriminates against older workers – the workforce is aging – because as people age, normal degenerative conditions can be aggravated by physical demands at work. Is this how North Dakotans want to treat workers who have been in the workforce for years? Should a state that boasts a booming Oil Patch and a strong overall economy portray itself as unfriendly to workers – the very people the state needs to keep the economy humming?

The legislation is mean-spirited and medically unsound. HB 1163 was moved along with uncharacteristic haste (it passed the House) before opponents in the medical community and elsewhere had time to mobilize. They will be ready when the bill moves to the Senate, where we hope it is defeated.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.