On Friday, April 27 – nine days after the General Assembly had sent him a bill to help address opioid addiction among Pennsylvania’s injured worker population – Gov. Tom Wolf issued his veto of S.B. 936. The PA Chamber was at the forefront in support for this legislation, which aimed to implement a prescription drug formulary within the state’s workers compensation system. Formularies are standard in healthcare and states that have established them within workers’ comp have seen a notable decrease in the number of opioid-dependent injured workers. Joining the PA Chamber in support for this bill was a broad array of stakeholders, including the Hospital & HealthSystem Association of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Occupational and Environmental Medical Society, Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association, Concentra (the largest provider of occupational medicine in the country), addiction treatment professionals, other groups representing employers, school districts and municipalities, as well as more than 70 local chambers of commerce, including the Columbia Montour Chamber.
“The Governor’s veto message is puzzling,” PA Chamber President Gene Barr said in a press release on Friday. “He does not appear to recognize that under S.B. 936 his own Department of Labor & Industry would have selected the formulary. I’m also disturbed that the message insinuates that a prescription drug formulary could encourage opioid use. This flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that drug formularies have helped reduce opioid use and addiction in state workers’ compensation systems across the country.”
The Governor’s decision to veto this important legislation is particularly disturbing in light of the revelations in a series of investigative articles by the Philadelphia Inquirer. The series described allegations involving a workers’ compensation law firm that partnered with a small network of doctors to prescribe their clients exorbitantly priced and unproven compound creams; and then sent these unsuspecting patients to pharmacies that were co-owned by the lawyers and doctors themselves. The articles exposed these individuals as the opponents aggressively fighting to defeat S.B. 936.
The day before he vetoed S.B. 936, Gov. Wolf announced his intent to issue Executive Orders related to the opioid crisis that appear to be woefully inadequate. In its press release, the PA Chamber listed the reasons why his action is not an adequate alternative to the bill. For example, the announcement mentions plans to regulate the cost of “topical opioid compounds,” but appears to ignore whether they actually help patients and could allow pharmacy arrangements like the one described by the Inquirer to continue unchecked. The announcement further mentions possible implementation of opioid prescribing “guidelines,” while failing to explain if these “guidelines” can even be enforced. Executive Orders do not carry the full force of the law; they are inherently temporary solutions and their implementation can be fraught with delays and loopholes. This is simply not an adequate alternative to S.B. 936.
“Governor Tom Wolf has spoken eloquently about addressing the opioid crisis and twice declared it an official state emergency,” PA Chamber President and CEO Gene Barr said. “But policymakers must also pursue all reasonable and responsible action to fight this tragic situation…We look forward to working with the legislature and the governor to implement an approach that will truly protect workers by getting them medications that are safe and effective, and will allow them to return to full health and work in a timely manner.”