Can I move out-of-state or leave the country while I’m receiving workers’ compensation benefits?
Yes, you can but not without some issues. First, getting medical treatment for your work injury out-of-state or outside the USA can be difficult. Many non-PA medical providers refuse to accept the reimbursement rate applicable to ALL medical providers who treat an injured worker under the PA WC Act. The reimbursement rate under the Act is not a dollar for dollar reimbursement of the fee charged by the doctor. In other words, the doctor isn’t entitled to get the full amount that they charge. Instead, a doctor who treats an injured worker under PA WC Act is only entitled to 113% of the current Medicare reimbursement rate which is established by the Federal government. If you treat outside of PA, the doctor is not subject to this reimbursement limitation so the doctor can bill you for his full rate. But, the PA comp carrier is only going to pay the reduced rate per the Act which many out-of-state doctors won’t accept. These payment issues can make it difficult for injured workers who move outside of PA to get medical treatment for their work injury.
Second, moving outside of PA will make it easier for your employer to try and stop your benefits. For example, if your employer decides to do vocational rehabilitation to show that there are other jobs that you can do despite your work restrictions, the law only requires that they show the availability of that work in the general geographic area where your injury occurred. If you’re out-of-state, that job could be several hundred miles away. You’re also obligated to continue to submit to IME’s at least once every six (6) months. The carrier can bring you back to PA for these exams as long as they’re willing to pay for your travel expenses. If the IME doctor finds you fully recovered and the comp carrier files a Termination Petition against you to stop your comp checks, you’re going to need a doctor to support your ongoing disability to defeat the petition which might be difficult because of the out-of-state treatment issues previously mentioned.
Case law has also established that if you move out of the country while you’re on workers’ compensation benefits, an employer can petition to suspend your wage loss benefits based on the argument that you voluntarily removed yourself from the workforce. In other words, by moving outside of the USA, you have effectively eliminated the employer’s ability to offer you work with them within your restrictions or, to show that there is work generally available in PA with another employer that you could despite your restrictions.
Neither your employer nor the workers’ compensation insurance carrier can prevent you from leaving PA while you’re on compensation but, this decision could have some very serious ramifications.