Significant dollars can be saved by getting injured workers to the best doctor. Evidence supporting this fact is the mounting Workers' Comp industry research clearly stating treatment by well-informed and well-intentioned medical doctors results in lower costs and better outcomes.
Belaboring A Point
As repeatedly stated in this series, many doctors in networks are not well-informed or well-intentioned regarding management of Workers' Comp claimants. As a consequence of their involvement, claim results are lacking, costs are high, and outcomes are precarious. This series of articles, "Tips for Building a WC Medical Provider A Team," is intended to describe how to identify doctors who know the ropes in Workers' Comp using indicators in the data.1
Beyond the indicators discussed in the previous articles in this series, additional salient data elements are available in the data to broaden the scope of medical management evaluation. What makes this approach so feasible is that solid knowledge of who demonstrates best practices is revealed in the data. However, to find that knowledge, some operational processes and the data itself need refinement. Access to the data and its quality must be addressed.
In late February 2013, the Audit Unit of the California Division of Workers Compensation provided a newsline release which dealt with good faith negotiations and liens. The release stated:
The Audit Unit of the Division of Workers' Compensation has received an increasing number of complaints from individuals and entities providing services on a lien basis in workers' compensation claims. The complainants report that some payors have adopted a policy of refusing to discuss negotiating the provider's liens until the provider of the services demonstrates it has filed a lien with the WCAB and paid the applicable lien filing or activation fee required by the enactment of SB 863. Such a policy is both unsupported by the plain language of Labor Code sections 4903.05 or 4903.06, and directly contrary to the legislative intent of those sections and existing law.
If a claims administrator has reasonable grounds to contend that nothing is owed, then good faith negotiation does not necessarily require an offer of compromise. In the absence of a good faith contention that nothing is owed, however, a refusal to negotiate prior to payment of the filing fee would not be in good faith.
Additionally, Title 8, California Code of Regulations, section 10109(e) mandates that "[a]ll Insurers, self-insured employers and third-party administrators shall deal fairly and in good faith with all claimants, including lien claimants."
Title 8 California Code of Regulations, section 10250(b) requires a moving party state under penalty of perjury that the moving party has made a genuine good faith effort to resolve the dispute before filing the Declaration of Readiness (DOR). Forcing a provider to file a lien and pay the filing or activation fee before the payor will discuss informal resolution of their billing amount prevents the provider from complying with this mandate. Such conduct could expose the payor to the imposition of sanctions, attorney's fees and costs under Labor Code section 5813. This practice also exposes the payor to audit penalties for violation of Title 8, California Code of Regulations, section 10109(e). As is the Audit Unit's existing practice, the Audit Unit will review all complaints received about this practice during the next random or targeted audit of any payor about whom such a complaint has been received.
Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 which included the terms "job-related and consistent with business necessity" in Section 703(k) of Title VII as part of a Congressional compromise. The amendment to the act which went into effect in 2008 did not affect the business necessity provision.
Case law regarding business necessity is very limited; however, a recent case in point is Atkins v. Salazar, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 25238 (5th Cir., Dec. 12, 2011), in which the Fifth Circuit issued an instructive opinion analyzing the business necessity defense in the context of diabetes.
The Fifth Circuit described the business necessity standard as follows:
For a qualification to be "job-related," "the employer must demonstrate that the qualification standard is necessary and related to 'the specific skills and physical requirements of the sought-after position.'" Similarly, for a qualification standard to be "consistent with business necessity," the employer must show that it "substantially promote[s]" the business' needs.
The court further noted, based on an earlier ruling, that it must "take into account the magnitude of possible harm as well as the probability of occurrence ... the probability of the occurrence is discounted by the magnitude of its consequences."
Workers' compensation insurance, like other employee benefits programs, continue to be a major expense to most employers. Decision makers are always looking for ways to better manage their cost, but sometimes the containment can be out of their influence.
For many years, employers enjoyed lower workers' comp rates as a result of reforms signed by our previous Governor and the competitive nature of the California insurance marketplace. Late last year, the workers' comp market began to change and insurance companies began to raise rates and become more selective about which employers they would keep or consider as new customers. Rising medical costs to treat injuries, increases in the insurance company costs of doing business, as well as lower returns of investment by insurance companies also led to this market shift.
Employers who had a series of injury claims, or even a large claim, also experienced greater increases in their workers' comp premium, because of the way their Workers' Comp Experience Modification Factor calculation was changed.
As a result of these premium increases, there has been a move by employers to seriously consider a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) to take the place of their workers' comp and employee benefits programs. A Professional Employer Organization is an arrangement where an employer essentially transfers their employees to another organization who then "leases" them back to their organization. This may relieve employers of direct involvement in the management of employees, but they still retain responsibilities as a "co-employer."
Is that guy you have doing that work you need done an independent contractor or an employee? Why does it matter? Well, aside from a whole host of other issues, liability for industrial injuries may hinge on whether that worker was an employee or an independent contractor.
Your humble author recently had occasion to visit his uncle Olaf. For those familiar with the exciting sport of competitive clam-breeding, you'll no-doubt have heard of Olaf the Clamtastic, world-famous for his exceedingly rare clam-breeding abilities. He also has a business which sells the Giant Clams he raises, "Olaf's World of Clams." "Uncle Olaf," I said, "who is that nice young man cleaning your prize-winning clams?" Uncle Olaf looked up from his magazine, Clams and Claims, and peered at his Olympic-sized swimming pool, the one where his giant clams ruled and all others feared to tread.
There, scrubbing the giant clams, was a young gentleman with a nervous look concealed by goggles and a breath mask.
"Oh," said Uncle Olaf, "That's Jim — he's my independent contractor helping me keep the Clams clean." As Uncle Olaf turned the page with one of his two hook-hands, I remarked "it's a good thing he's a contract worker and not an employee, those clams can be vicious!" But, the workers' compensation defense attorney in me felt something was amiss. So, being the good nephew that I am, I asked Uncle Olaf, "how do you know he's a contractor and not an employee?"
Uncle Olaf smiled, as if his silly nephew couldn't be any sillier, and said "because I didn't buy workers' compensation insurance for him, of course!"
Poor Uncle Olaf ...
Imagine, if you will, twin boys born on some sunny day not too long ago. Neither one of the boys, nor their parents, nor even the delivering doctors knew that both boys were born with a heart condition. This congenital heart anomaly, a patent foramen ovale, left a small hole open in the walls of each brother's heart, exposing them to higher risks of stroke.
These twin brothers, let's call them Keven and Kenny, seemed to be joined at the hip. They enjoyed all the same activities, all the same food, went to the same school, and, when they decided it was time to purchase homes of their own, bought two adjacent houses. Being as close as they were, they tore down the fence between their properties and right in the middle built a small gazebo where they could enjoy breakfast with their families every weekend morning.
In choosing a profession, Keven wanted a job that would keep him physically fit while allowing him to serve the community and even save the lives of his fellow citizens. So he became a firefighter. The job kept him physically fit and allowed him to maintain a clean bill of health ... except for that congenital heart anomaly, which no one knew about.
Kenny, on the other hand, decided to pursue the absolute highest calling — the profession which the bravest and noblest aspire to. He didn't want to become a physician, or an engineer, or even a scientist. He decided to become a workers' compensation defense attorney (not unlike your humble author).
Still, the two twin brothers were in every other respect exactly alike, and spent every Sunday morning having breakfast together in that shared gazebo, along with their wives and children.
Then, tragedy struck! One morning, as Kenny and Keven sat next to each other, enjoying the morning air, each with a newspaper in the left hand and a piece of toast in the right, they suddenly sat straight up, looked into each other's eyes, and both collapsed to the ground with strokes.
Under the new requirements of SB 863, California private (non-public entity) workers' comp self-insured employers and self-insured groups (SIGs) starting this year are required to submit an actuarial study and an actuarial summary form to the Department of Industrial Relation's Office of Self-Insured Plans (OSIP). Private self-insured employers' actuarial submissions are due on May 1 and SIGs are due on April 15. The new actuarial study and summary form must both be prepared by a qualified actuary, as defined by OSIP.
Under SB 863, the method for calculating OSIP's required security deposits has changed from the old method involving the Estimated Future Liabilities (EFL) formula (multiplied by a factor of 1.35 - 2.00) to the new actuarial methodology. This is considered the "gold standard" by insurers, captives, and other state Guaranty Funds as well. Self insurers are still required to submit their self-insured employers' annual reports to OSIP as they have always done. This annual report covers the self-insured entity's open workers' comp claims by calendar year.
Those 340+ self-insured entities in the Alternative Security Program (ASP) of the Self-Insurers' Security Fund (SISF) are part of the annual composite deposit program wherein SISF provides OSIP with their security deposit guarantee. They post nothing. Therefore, their security deposits are "notional" since SISF covers them. SISF's ASP member assessments in July, 2013 will be adjusted (i.e. rebalanced) to reflect the new actuarial standard. Some ASP entities may experience increases or decreases in their annual assessments as a result of their restated open claim liabilities using a uniform actuarial standard. Currently, SISF member security deposits are based on factors of 135% to over 200% of their total EFL.
We are very pleased to be able to include the phone interview above. We are able to provide this rich media content through a new, special media partnership with World Risk and Insurance News (WRIN.tv). World Risk and Insurance News is an online video-based insurance news network delivering late-breaking and relevant business-to-business information, analysis and forward-thinking programming for the global risk, insurance and financial services industries.
Workers in the healthcare industry face many risks, and one that consistently arises as a major cost driver is musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), better known as soft tissue injuries. Because of the difficulty in objectively identifying and subsequently treating these conditions, employers must now consider new options when it comes to risk control.
Patient handling tasks are recognized as the primary cause of musculoskeletal disorders among the nursing workforce. A variety of patient handling tasks exist within the context of nursing care, such as lifting and transferring patients. Nursing personnel have been on the top-10 list of workers with the highest risk for musculoskeletal disorders since 1999, and although the numbers of injured health care workers has decreased, nurses, nurse's aides, orderlies, and attendants have remained at the top of this list since then.
According to OSHA, in 2010 there were 27,020 cases, which equates to an incidence rate (IR) of 249 per 10,000 workers, more than seven times the average for all industries. In 2010 the average incidence rate for musculoskeletal disorder cases with days away from work increased 4 percent, while the musculoskeletal disorder incidence rate for nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants increased 10 percent. For musculoskeletal disorder cases involving patient handling, virtually all were the result of overexertion, sprain, strain, or tear.
Additionally, according to an American Nurses Association 2012 study, 52 percent of nurses complain of chronic back pain with a lifetime prevalence up to 80% and 38% report having occupational-related back pain severe enough to require leave from work. The same study revealed that 12% of nurses leaving the profession report back pain as a main contributory factor and 20% have reported changing to a different unit, position, or employment because of back pain. In fact, nursing personnel have the highest incidence rate of workers compensation claims for back injuries of any occupation.
Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants incurred occupational injuries or illnesses in 48% of the musculoskeletal disorder cases involving health care patients. Other occupations with musculoskeletal disorder cases involving health care patients included licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, personal and home care aides, health care support workers, radiologic technologists and technicians, and medical and health services managers.
Five years ago, members of a risk management discussion group I belong to on Yahoo Groups raised the question of whether or not illegal immigrants (i.e., undocumented immigrants) were entitled to workers' compensation benefits. The answer most of the respondents gave was yes, but with some restrictions depending upon the state. One respondent in particular even provided the group with documents from the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc. (IIABA) that gave the pros and cons in the debate on whether undocumented immigrants were entitled to benefits or not.
The purpose of this article is not to rehash the debate points, but to explore what impact impending immigration reform, which has been promised by the Obama administration in the upcoming second term of the president, will have on workers' compensation and the likelihood that injured newly legal immigrant workers, especially from Mexico and other Latin American countries, will avail themselves of the benefits of medical tourism to their home countries as an option if injured on the job.
According to the IIABA White Paper, which cited a Pew Hispanic Center report published in 2006, there are probably 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US, depending upon how many have "self-deported" recently due to the current US economic slowdown. Demographically, this represents 5.4 million men, 3.9 million women, and 1.8 million children. In addition, there are 3.1 million children who are US citizens, having been born here (64% of all children of the undocumented) from one or more parent.
President Obama's Executive Order last year gave many of these children a reprieve from deportation while they are attending college here and until more comprehensive reform can be achieved for all undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants account for almost one-third of all foreign-born residents of the US, and about 80% of these are from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
The report also states that out of the total number of 9.3 million undocumented adults, 7.2 million (77%) are employed and account for around 5% of the US workforce. They comprise a disproportionate percentage in some industries, such as 24% of farm workers, 17% of cleaning workers, 14% of construction workers, and 12% of food preparers.
These industries typically account for much of the claims filed under the US workers' compensation system. Within a particular industry, undocumented workers comprise a higher percentage of more hazardous occupations. For example, 36% of insulation workers and 29% of all roofing employees are estimated to be undocumented.
In an attempt to simplify the ever-confusing Workers' Compensation world in the great State of California, our legislative branch drafted SB 863 in 2012. With the stroke of his pen, Governor Brown enacted sweeping legislation, with effective and varying start dates for various provisions of the new law. However, with varying start dates comes confusion regarding various provisions. A spinal surgery request is one of the areas which appears to have a problem with the implementation date of July 1, 2013.
Effective January 1, 2013, provisions under Labor Code § 4062(b) pertaining to the spinal surgery second opinion process have been eliminated from the Labor Code. Overall, this is a positive result for the Defendant from SB 863. The new independent medical review (IMR) process kicks in on July 1, 2013, for dates of injury prior to January 1, 2013. However, a new question has surfaced as a result of this substantial change. How do we address spinal surgery requests for dates of injury prior to January 1, 2013?
The new regulations and the Labor Code conflict in their guidance. Labor Code § 4062 (b) reads: "For injuries on or after 1/1/2013 and for UR decisions communicated on or after 7/1/2013, regardless of date of injury, all employee objections to utilization review disputes under Lab Code § 4610 are resolved only IMR pursuant to 4610.5 and not through the QME process." Simple enough. Yet with the provisions of Labor Code § 4610.5 regarding the IMR process not starting until July 1, 2013, we have a sizeable gap of six months where the parties are seemingly unable to participate in a second opinion process as well as the independent medical review process.
Causing even more confusion is the second half of Labor Code § 4062(b) which reads: "For injuries on or after 1/1/2013 and for objections to diagnosis of treatment recommendations within the MPN, regardless of the date of injury, all employee objections to diagnosis or treatment recommendations within the MPN are also resolved only through independent medical review pursuant to § 4610.5."
Curiously, this seems to imply that the independent medical review process is the method which should be used, since a request for spinal surgery is clearly a request for care. Further, the process is to be implemented "regardless of the date of injury." That being said, we must note that the objections must come from care within the medical provider network (if applicable). Further, it appears that this section refers only to "employee" (not employer) objections.