What's Up Doc?

Sue Carney

January 23, 2020

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(This article first appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

Postal employees who are injured on the job have the right to select their treating physician. Under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), medical doctors, including specialists are considered qualified. Exceptions include individuals whose licenses have been revoked or suspended or who have been excluded from payment under FECA.

The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) only pays chiropractors for manual manipulation to correct subluxation of the spine when demonstrated by x-ray, and for physical therapy performed under the direction of a doctor. A psychologist may serve as the sole treating physician when the condition is wholly emotional in nature. They may treat physical conditions if permitted by state law and conduct testing, evaluation and other services under the direction of a doctor.

OWCP must consider all medical documentation. Only doctors, not physician assistants, nurse practitioners, physical therapists nor office staff should sign reports or disable employees from work. Stamped signatures are acceptable.

The USPS may require examination by a contract doctor, but the examination may not delay initial treatment by the employee’s chosen physician. The employee has a right to refuse treatment and should not be required to sign any medical releases or guarantor forms, nor compelled to return for follow-up treatment. Upon the third visit, the contract doctor is considered the claimant’s treating physician.

Contract doctors serve the employer. They are not the claimant’s advocate and are not bound by patient-doctor confidentiality. They may share private information with the Postal Service. This includes contract vendors providing services under the USPS Medical Benefit Programs, i.e. physical therapy, transportation. Participation in these programs is voluntary and should be discouraged.

Treating Physicians Should Know

OWCP makes all decisions regarding claim approval, benefits and treatment, not the United States Postal Service. Failure to respond to the USPS will not impact payment for their services. The USPS is only entitled to a claimant’s medical restrictions and prognosis., When disabled because of a traumatic injury and claiming continuation of pay, they are entitled to a medical note within 10 days of when COP begins disabling the claimant for a specified period of time.

All other medical reports and claim documentation, except forms that require employing agency completion, should be sent directly to OWCP or more preferably given to the claimant for submission to OWCP. Claim information is private and protected by the Department of Labor Privacy Act Systems / GOVT-1. The fact that the USPS is the employer does not automatically entitle designated postal personnel to protected claim information no matter how benign their request may seem – communications are often misleading and frequently omit claimant rights.

The Postal Service is only permitted to contact a treating physician in writing and solely regarding medical restrictions and prognosis. Any other communication or content is a violation of the law. The USPS is required to copy claimants when communications are sent to physicians, and upon receipt of a response.

Doctors and claimants must cooperate with nurses assigned by OWCP but the nurse cannot interfere with or direct the course of treatment nor be party to exams or private discussions. They should know job offers must include all physical requirements of the duties; that their medical narrative must include rationale – not just an opinion; that the USPS Health and Resource Management Office and Headquarters Injury Compensation are not an extension of OWCP; and that a CA-16, when issued, authorizes their medical services and guarantees payment for up to 60 days, even when a referring doctor’s name is listed on the form – a new form will not be issued.

In order to be paid doctors must be an enrolled provider. They can register at owcp.med.dol.gov via the ‘FECA provider’ web portal. Doctors with questions treating APWU members may  contact Annette August-Taylor at OWCP@apwu.org.  

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