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New Laws Covering Workers, Contractors and MaineCare Recipients go Into Effect
12/31/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

Most of the new Maine laws passed in the last legislative session have already taken effect. But important tweaks to laws governing workers' compensation, independent contractors - and how painkillers and drug treatment are covered under MaineCare - take effect at midnight tonight.  Jay Field has an overview of the changes and what they'll mean in the new year.

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New Laws Covering Workers, Contractors and MaineCa
Originally Aired: 12/31/2012 5:30 PM

One of the changes in state law for the new year will affect MaineCare recipients who need refills for certain painkillers.  The way it works now is pretty simple:  Let's say a doctor decides to treat a patient for a sprained knee with synthetic opiates.

"Their doctor will write a script for whatever medication it is, whether it's Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin," says Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association.  And, says Smith, that patient can get refills after several weeks if the pain is still acute without any restrictions. 

But Smith says that will change at midnight. The new rules allow Maine Care patients with acute pain a 15-day supply of opiates. To get the prescription renewed, Smith says the physician must get prior authorization from the state, showing that ongoing treatment with pain pills is medically necessary.

Why the new restriction? "Anybody would have to be living in a cave the last 10 years not to understand that we have an epidemic of prescription drug abuse. This proposal is one reaction to that," Smith ways.

Our patient will be able to get two renewals authorized. If they need more treatment, they become a chronic pain patient. Smith says MaineCare recipients in this category also face new restrictions.

"Their days are going to start getting counted tomorrow. And their doctors are going to have to put into place a treatment plan that will show that they've tried some alternatives to opiates, so that some of these folks begin to be tapered off the medication or get into treatment facilites, if they're addicted," Smith says.

And MaineCare patients who are already struggling with addiction to opiates, face a new, two-year limit on methadone treatment in 2013. Opponents of the new restriction fear it will lead to more relapses and an increase in crime. Supporters argue it will save the state money at a time when it's shelling out millions every year on methadone treatment.

Midnight will also bring key changes to laws covering workers' compensation in Maine' and who does, and does not, qualify as an independent contractor.

Up until now, businesses have been classifying some workers as employees under workers' compensation rules and as an independent contractors under labor laws that govern wages, unemployment compensation and taxes.

"Employers thought they were following the law. And then they would get caught in this Catch-22, owing money," says Julie Rabinowitz, who heads up communications at the Maine Department of Labor. "There's a lot of confusion, and having one standard - that both agencies have agreed to be bound to - should bring a lot of clarity."

2012 saw a major overhaul of Maine's workers' compensation system. Injured employees collecting partial workers' comp still face a limit of 520 weeks of benefits.

But Paul Singhinolfi, head of Maine's Workers' Compensation Board, says the law will now allow extensions "if you have permanent impairment at a certain level, but in addition to that, that you've returned to work and your earning falls below a percentage of your average weekly wage," he says.

Sighinolfi says the change is designed to encourage people to return to work, if they're going to try to collect benefits beyond the 520 week limit. Other changes to the workers' compensation system will give employees less time to notify their employer when they suffer an injury on the job - 30 days instead of 90.


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