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The ‘CURES’ for Work Comp Claims

When an injured worker submits a claim, it initiates processes aimed at returning the injured worker to gainful and sustainable work at the earliest possible time. In this journey, checkpoints and milestones are the best means to monitor progress. Checkpoints generally relate to visits with a medical practitioner where medical conditions are checked against expectations and, if necessary, treatments are adjusted. Milestones are associated with reaching a goal.

At the first medical appointment, the physician is required to prepare a report for the claims administrator based on a comprehensive medical examination of the injured person, including a review of the medical history. At the same time, the physician can access CURES (Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System) to check whether the patient has received any scheduled controlled substances in the prior 12 months. Through this access, the physician can identify an at-risk patient and accordingly establish a treatment plan that considers both medications and adjunctive treatments. Also, if a patient is identified as an addict, he can be referred for rehabilitation and social re-integration. With subsequent medical appointments, the physician can again use CURES to check for any changes to the patient’s scheduled controlled substances usage since his last visit.

The importance of a physician using CURES to check a patient’s use of scheduled controlled substances cannot be overemphasized, especially in workers’ compensation, where a patient may not be forthcoming in sharing comorbidity information because of a lack of trust. Not knowing if a patient is currently taking scheduled controlled substances, the physician could jeopardize the patient by prescribing inappropriate medications.

In addition to the medical profession, CURES is available to Department of Justice investigators and law enforcement agencies to identify persons who visit a number of physicians to obtain supplies of scheduled controlled substances for abuse and diversion (i.e. physician shopping). Pharmacists and numerous regulatory boards from the medical board to the veterinary board also have access to CURES, providing them with the opportunity to monitor the medical profession for aberrant prescribing of scheduled controlled substances.

While states like Florida implemented a PDMP (prescription drug monitoring program) as late as 2011, California has monitored Schedule II controlled substances since 1940 and with the introduction of CURES in 1996 extended its monitoring to include Schedule III and IV controlled substances. Online access to CURES has also been available to the medical profession since 2009. Consequently, California has not experienced the abuse and diversion that Florida has with its “pill mills.”

Access to CURES by claims administrators or their representatives (i.e. third party payers) will not deliver improved quality of care or reduce prescription drug fraud and abuse and will add unnecessary costs through duplication of efforts already being performed by others using CURES. Close monitoring of checkpoints, however, by the claims administrator will provide benefits. Monitoring is accomplished through what is commonly referred to as “encounter data” and includes diagnoses, services performed and medications dispensed along with amounts charged and paid. Diagnoses, medical procedures and pharmaceuticals translated into coding systems such as ICD-10 (International Classification of Disease, 10th revision), HCPCS (HeathCare Common Procedure Coding System) and NDC (National Drug Code) provide excellent opportunities to automate the monitoring of encounter data.

Have claims administrators been able to implement technology solutions to automate the monitoring of encounter data and achieve outstanding results? Over the past two decades, many claims administrators have opted to outsource the management and control of critically important functions such as utilization review, medical bill review and pharmacy monitoring. Many of the outsource organizations only focus on that part of the encounter data that directly applies to their function — for example, pharmacy benefit managers only monitor the pharmacy. But using all the encounter data can promote a vibrant synergy very capable of achieving outstanding outcomes and results for the injured worker.

Losing control of encounter data eliminates the claims administrator’s ability to establish and monitor adherence to best evidence-based practices. When physicians have not adhered to their proposed treatment plans, opportunities to trigger yellow and red flags for investigation are lost.

Claims administrators who have automated the monitoring of their encounter data can assist states in reducing abuse and diversion by monitoring the quantities of medications being dispensed in a progressive or step therapy pain management plan, for example, and encouraging unused supplies to be returned to the physician at the next appointment. This can be achieved at no additional cost to the claims administrator and reduces the quantities of unused or unneeded prescription medications in circulation, which has been the focus of the DEA’s (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency) “take back” initiatives. To date, the DEA has collected in excess of 1,400 tons of unused medications, which could otherwise have found their way into the illicit drug market.

For as long as the U.S. remains the biggest licit and illicit drug market in the world, claims administrators will remain challenged to deliver on their workers’ compensation claims handling obligations.

With a changing workforce, claims administrators will need to move more and more toward a biopsychosocial approach to managing medical conditions. They must provide quality care at the lowest possible cost, which can only be achieved through the fine analytics of consolidated encounter data.

Capturing encounter data through the claims administrator’s processes and fine analytics will consistently yield the best claims outcomes, from earlier return-to-work to lower costs associated with medical treatment through to automated overseeing of a claim, including provider performance monitoring and evaluation. All of these are the essence of superior workers’ compensation claims management.

Understanding the Challenges in Narcotic Management

At a cost of more than $1.4 billion annually, narcotics and opioids have rapidly become one of the highest-cost therapeutic categories for workers’ compensation injuries.* They are also among the most difficult to manage. No employer wants to have injured workers in undue pain or discomfort – and narcotics do alleviate pain. However, there are serious issues to consider with regard to prescription abuse and misuse, especially for opioids such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.

How can employers help injured workers while ensuring appropriate use of narcotics and reducing unnecessary costs? Comprehensive, clinically based narcotic management programs can help.

Over the past 10 years, opioids, a type of narcotic, have become more commonly used to treat chronic to severe pain associated with workers’ compensation injuries. Known by the generic names of morphine or codeine, and now more frequently by the brand names Oxycontin and Vicodin, opioids are powerful pain relievers.

However, many of these medications were initially intended for end-stage cancer, not for common workplace injuries. While there is likely some benefit in some cases for the use of such medications to treat workers’ compensation injuries, clinicians note that those benefits are typically seen by just a small percentage of patients. There is little evidence to support their long-term or widespread use in standard workers’ compensation injuries. In fact, a study reported by the American Insurance Association found that only a minority of workers with back injuries improved their level of pain (26%) and function (16%) with the use of opioids.** What’s more, there is a high risk for abuse, dependency, and overutilization with this classification of drugs. Indeed, the strongest predictor of long-term opioid use was when it was prescribed within the first 90 days post-injury; that means that every prescription – especially the first one – must be scrutinized to ensure appropriate utilization and optimal benefit. Employers are also concerned about the cost of narcotics. While narcotic use is concentrated among a small percentage of claimants, per-claim costs for narcotics have increased more than 50% over the past decade

Key statistics

  • From 1997 to 2007, the milligram per person use of prescription opioids in the U.S. increased from 74 milligrams to 369 milligrams – that’s an increase of 400%.
  • In 2000, retail pharmacies dispensed 174 million prescriptions for opioids; by 2009, 257 million prescriptions were dispensed – an increase of more than 40%.
  • Opioid overdoses, once almost always because of heroin use, are now increasing because of abuse of prescription painkillers.

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

Managing narcotics is not about removing viable medications for mitigating pain from the therapies available to providers – it is about ensuring the best possible medications for workers’ compensation injuries are used.

As a result, claims examiners should be trained to look for red flags, such as:

  • Higher-than-normal physician dispensing.
  • Lower-than-average generic dispensing.
  • Higher-than-average prescribing of opioids such as Fentanyl Citrate.

But prescribing medications is a complex issue – reports and percentages alone don’t tell the whole story. So, it’s crucial to look beyond simple prescribing reports to uncover additional information that could indicate why prescribers’ patterns are outside the norm. For example, use of amphetamines could indicate that a patient has a traumatic brain injury, where such medications are a standard treatment protocol.

Drugs that are not suitable for the injury type and the age of the claim need to be identified at the point-of-sale, so claims examiners or nurses are alerted before a prescription that is outside the formulary is filled at the retail pharmacy and can intercede with drug management, if needed. This is particularly useful in the acute injury stage to eliminate early narcotic use where it is not appropriate. If a narcotic is prescribed, the injured worker’s entire medical history needs to be reviewed, using both in-network and out-of-network transactions and non-occupational associated medications to evaluate actual medication use and ensure appropriate utilization.

Follow-up appointments should be required, and only a few days of treatment should be authorized initially. This helps determine whether the medication has improved pain control and function.

Another critical step to managing narcotics is to thoroughly educate employees as to the benefits, dangers, and alternatives for narcotics. The education should include:

  • Training the injured workers about their medication, adverse side effects, and alternative medication options.
  • Required screenings for risk of addiction or abuse (history of drug or alcohol abuse, or regular use of sedatives).
  • Opioid use agreement/contract with urine drug screenings and avoidance of other sources for medication, such as emergency rooms.

A number of factors should trigger a review:

  • Narcotic-class medications for the treatment of pain (Oxycontin, Demerol, etc.).
  • Use of multiple medications excessively or from multiple therapeutic classes.
  • Using medications not typical for the treatment of workers’ compensation injuries.
  • High-cost medications.
  • Receiving high doses of morphine equivalents daily for treatment of chronic pain.
  • Using three or more narcotic analgesics.
  • Receiving duplicate therapy with NSAIDs, muscle relaxants or sedatives.
  • Using both sedatives and stimulants concurrently.
  • Using compounded medications instead of commercially available products.

* “Narcotics in Workers Compensation,” NCCI Research Brief, Dec. 2009

** http://www.aiadc.org/AIAdotNET/docHandler.aspx?DocID=351901