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December 10, 2015

Southern California Is Home to Fraud

Summary:

Recent arrests underscore the huge problems with workers' comp fraud in the area, though regulations are helping injured employees.

Photo Courtesy of Edward Conde

Those who are familiar with the California workers’ compensation system are aware that much of the fraud, and a very high percentage of the liens, in the state are in Southern California. These three articles (here, here and here) show why workers’ comp fraud is making a home in Southern California.

Before the passage of SB-899 in 2004, there was one back fusion surgery for every laminectomy (surgery to reduce pressure on the spinal cord or nerves) provided in workers’ compensation in California even though only 3% of laminectomies by group health providers resulted in fusions.

Prior to SB-899, it was almost impossible for the payers to say no to physicians’ requests for multiple surgeries. Back then, six and seven unnecessary back surgeries on a patient were not uncommon — and, apparently, for the benefit of the doctors, not of the injured workers.

To compound the problems for the injured worker, when the multiple back surgeries were not successful, the employee was then given opioids for the intractable pain. This resulted in a large number of injured workers who are now opioid addicts.

Opioid-addicted injured workers now account for a high percentage of the complex and advanced IMRs (independent medical reviews done by Maximus).

Pending regulations from the Division of Workers’ Compensation for a pharmacy formulary (using evidence-based medicine) will help reduce the number of inappropriate requests and questionable denials.

Already, passage of SB-863, with a focus on evidence-based medicine and medical decisions made by medical professionals, helped significantly reduce the abuses and improve the care for the injured workers of California. The IMR process outlined in SB-863 takes medical decisions away from non-medical professionals. It helps protect the injured workers from abuses like those outlined by the FBI in the articles I linked to above.

It would be interesting to see how many of the millions of the liens filed in the system are associated with the indicted doctors mentioned in the article.

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About the Author

William Zachry has been the vice president of risk management for Safeway (the third largest retail grocery company in the U.S.) since 2001. He oversees Safeway’s nationwide self-insured, self-administered workers’ compensation program of 11 locations with 125 claims staff.

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