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Workers’ comp patients pay more for meds

Workers who are injured in the state of Maryland could pay more than three times for the same medication they could have filled at a local pharmacy. A new report from the independent Workers’ Compensation Research Institute shows that physicians who dispense medications directly to injured patients under workers’ compensation are likely to apply appalling markups to critically necessary pain medication.

Physician-dispensed medication constitutes about 40 percent of prescription claims under workers’ compensation, but it accounts for some 55 percent of payments. In other words, physicians may be taking advantage of the workers’ compensation system to get extra money for their practice, rather than charging a fair price similar to that of a pharmacy. The discrepancies are obvious when considering the cost for a common painkiller, Vicodin. One pill costs $0.37 at a pharmacy, but physicians will charge $1.46 for the same item. Over-the-counter products are not exempt from this phenomenon, as even allergy medication can cost $3.40 per pill, ten times more than patients would pay at a local drug store.

The discrepancies in this system are distressing, as abuse of workers’ compensation could cost others their rights to be compensated for injuries suffered on the job. Unnecessary increases in medical expenses could drain the compensation fund, which is paid for by Maryland employers through mandatory insurance policies, more rapidly than anticipated. Previous legal action has sought to limit physician dispensing throughout the state, but many of those efforts died as recently as 2011. In addition, even though medication costs at pharmacies throughout the U.S. have dropped by about 15 percent, physicians are charging 15 percent more for their direct-dispensed prescriptions.

Further research will be necessary to determine whether physician-based drug dispensing is beneficial to workers’ compensation patients. All policies that are passed with regards to workers’ compensation should be designed to protect those individuals who suffer on-the-job injuries, as they deserve restitution for their medical bills and other costs.

Source:, “Md. physicians put high mark-up on workers comp pain-killers” Meg Tully, Sep. 16, 2013