July 2, 2012
Medical Provider Networks – Valdez v. Zurich North America
by Stu Baron
The Second District Court of Appeal recently issued their decision on Valdez v. Zurich North America which involves in part, the admissibility of non-Medical Provider Network doctor's reports. It says in part that non-Medical Provider Network diagnosis, treatment and attendant reports which are paid for by the employee are admissible. This article offers one strategy to retain medical control under the Medical Provider Network while at the same time avoiding lengthy litigation over the admissibility of the employee's non-Medical Provider Network doctor's report.
The Second District Court of Appeal recently issued their decision on this case which involves in part, the admissibility of non-Medical Provider Network doctor’s reports. This is an unpublished decision and therefore has no precedential value. In other words, it cannot be cited in other cases with the same or similar issues. In summary, it says in part that employee-requested visits to his/her own physician under L/C 4605, i.e. non-Medical Provider Network diagnosis, treatment and attendant reports which are paid for by the employee are admissible.
While the applicant’s attorney will ask the court to publish it, the probability seems very low in that the case was remanded to the trial court to deal with the admissibility issue as well as other issues left unsettled by the Workers Compensation Judge at the time of trial.
Labor Code (L/C) 4605 was first enacted in 1917 under the Insurance and Safety Act. Sec. 9(a) is most interesting in that it reads:
“Such medical, surgical and hospital treatment, including nursing, medicines, medical and surgical supplies, crutches and apparatus, including artificial members, as may reasonably be required to cure and relieve from the effects of the injury, the same to be provided by the employer, and in case of his neglect or refusal seasonably to do so, the employer to be liable for the reasonable expense incurred by or on behalf of the employee in providing the same: provided, that if the employee so requests, the employer shall tender him one change of physicians and shall nominate at least three additional practicing physicians competent to treat the particular case, or as many as may be available if three cannot reasonably be named, from whom the employee may choose: the employee shall also be entitled, in any serious case, upon request, to the services of a consulting physician to be provided by the employer: all of said treatment to be at the expense of the employer. If the employee so requests, the employer must procure certification by the commission or the commissioner of the competency for the particular case of the consulting or additional physicians; provided, further, that the foregoing provisions regarding a change of physicians shall not apply to those cases where the employer maintains, for his own employees, a hospital and hospital staff, the adequacy and competency of which have been approved by the commission. Nothing contained in this section shall be construed to limit the right of the employee to provide, in any case, at his own expense, a consulting physician or any attending physicians whom he may desire (my emphasis). The same general language as to responsibilities will now be found in L/C 4600(a); 4601 and 4605.
The reason this section is important is that Section 9(a) pre-dates L/C 4616, the Medical Provider Network statute. As such, any attempt to harmonize the rights of the employee to seek their own doctor at their own expense against the later enacted Medical Provider Network statute will have to give precedent to the later enacted labor code section. I therefore offer the following as one strategy to retain medical control under the Medical Provider Network while at the same time avoiding lengthy litigation over the admissibility of the employee’s non-Medical Provider Network doctor’s report.
Strategy for Medical Provider Networks Going Forward
On all new claims, employers and their claims administrators (carrier or TPA) should continue to assert medical control under their Medical Provider Network. Employers will need to make sure that the notice process to the employee is complete and well documented. That is one of the issues currently facing the trial judge on remand, i.e. was there a valid Medical Provider Network in place. Had there been better documentation on the employer’s notification process presented at trial, the issue of applicant attorneys’ attempt to seize medical control may have been avoided.
However, the real question deals with the use by applicant attorney of L/C 4605 as a means to get his non-Medical Provider Network doctors reports admitted and relied upon. What is most interesting is the caption for that section:
“Consulting or attending physicians provided at employee’s expense.”
“Nothing contained in this chapter shall limit the right of the employee to provide, at his own expense, a consulting or any attending physicians whom he desires.”
It must again be noted that this language was in the Labor Code long before L/C 4616, i.e. the Medical Provider Network enabling statute which became effective in 2004. As noted above, under the rules of statutory construction, the later enacted takes precedent over the former when seeking to harmonize the two as to current legislative intent.
I therefore recommend that the injured employee be informed, as part of the employer’s or carrier’s acknowledgment of the claim, that a valid Medical Provider Network is in place and that the employee’s cooperation is expected. Next, it should state “that they are free under L/C 4605 to seek their own consulting or attending physician, at their own expense. They will be told at that time that if they do avail themselves of this option under L/C 4605, their consulting or attending physicians medical reports will be tendered to the Primary Treating Physician for this injury who, under the Medical Provider Network statute is the controlling doctor (L/C 4061.5) This way, the consulting physician’s report will have been admitted for use by the Primary Treating Physician as he/she deems appropriate.
At the same time, the normal Medical Provider Network process will be enforced as is current policy. Demand will be made that the employee continues to be seen for diagnosis and treatment by a Medical Provider Network doctor. If there is a dispute as to diagnosis or treatment by either the applicant’s attorney or the L/C 4605 obtained consulting report, that dispute over the diagnosis and/or treatment will be handled under the Medical Provider Network’s 2nd, 3rd and if necessary, the Independent Medical Review process.
We will also be requesting from the employee an acknowledgement, under penalty of perjury that the employee has already paid or understands that he/she is the ultimate responsible party for paying their L/C 4605 obtained physicians as well as any other related bills for testing and other costs. We will object to the fronting of said costs by the applicant’s attorney or any liens from the consulting physician unless it is clear that they understand the applicant’s obligation to pay their costs.
Under this scenario, employers and their carriers or Third Party Administrators will be able to use the full weight of the Medical Provider Network process while at the same time, dealing with non-Medical Provider Network procured medical diagnosis and treatment. This will help keep the employee within the Medical Provider Network and, if handled in a swift and judicious manner, help hasten a timely closure of the claim.