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Published March 25 2013

Forum editorial: WSI pain bill defies science

Legislation that is mostly under the radar at the North Dakota Legislature is shaping up to be anti-medical science and anti-older worker.

Workforce Safety & Insurance, the state workers’ compensation agency, is pushing a measure that would reclassify pain as it affects workplace injuries and as pain might be a determining factor in claims decisions. The proposed redefinition would, in effect, put into law a discredited concept of pain that dates to the 17th century, according to a medical expert who testified against the bill. That physician said the legislation is based on “a profound misunderstanding” of pain, as pain is understood by modern medicine and science.

House Bill 1163 would redefine pain as a symptom and not a sign of substantial “worsening” or “acceleration” of a pre-existing condition. The change could deny benefits to workers if work triggers symptoms in a pre-existing condition. In other words, if work aggravates, say, a previous sprain or muscle tear the injured worker might not qualify for benefits.

It’s a very bad deal, especially for older workers because older workers develop pain-causing conditions that often are rooted in years of physical labor and/or previous injuries. WSI officials contend that the change does not render pain irrelevant or unimportant. But in practice – during the purposefully difficult claims process – that’s exactly what the measure would do. For older workers who might suffer more work-related pain as they age, the seeming dismissal of pain as an indicator of injury puts them at the mercy of WSI-paid physicians who would be compelled by the new law to diagnose within the constraints of an unscientific definition of pain.

The 2013 Legislature has ignored science and medicine routinely, but the WSI pain bill is especially troubling. Not only is the science of pain and pain’s effects being shunted aside, but the people who would be most damaged by the proposed change are older workers who have been on the job for decades. The bill is an affront to medical science. Moreover, it insults hardworking men and women who live North Dakota’s work ethic every day.

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