SB 863 was signed by California’s Governor back in October but with an official start date of January 1, 2013. For that reason and just because I don’t trust either the legislature or the courts to change their minds, I thought I would wait until now to start talking about what is good, what is bad and what is downright ugly.
Let’s Start With A Good…
In 1917, the first Industrial Accident and Safety Act went into effect. There were lots of pieces, but one that has endured the test of time is the one that allows an injured employee to choose to be treated by his own consulting or attending physician, at the employee’s own expense. The current version of that section is now Labor Code Section 4605 (until 1/1/2013). In my mind, it has been used, or should I say abused, over the past years with an ongoing controversy over this section and what it really means.
There are two major issues surrounding this section of the code. The first has been the question of who is really responsible to pay the bill. The second is whether or not the non-Medical Provider Network doctors’ reports are admissible in court. Well, thanks to an energetic applicants’ attorney (A/A) named Mendoza, both of these issues became ripe for the courts with the recent 2012 Valdez case.
First, I must note that there was a viable Medical Provider Network in place at the time of the injury. The employee initially went to the carrier’s Medical Provider Network doctor, but he also self-procured his own, non-Medical Provider Network doctor.
The carrier objected on the basis that the Medical Provider Network controlled all medical treatment. However, the trial judge admitted and relied totally on the report of the self-procured, non-Medical Provider Network doctor in making his decision as to compensability and the amount that would be due the injured employee. This matter was then taken up by the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board who reversed the trial judge not once but twice.
However, Mr. Valdez’ attorney was not letting go so easily. So the matter was then taken up by the Court of Appeals who agreed with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. Mr. Mendoza was still not satisfied and took the matter to the California Supreme Court for consideration. The matter has been accepted by the Supreme Court and we await their decision which I predict will be in our favor.
However, while all of this was going on in the courts, the legislature was in the process of passing SB 863, which has some interesting changes … one of which is directly related to this issue. To put it in perspective, you must understand the current language of 4605 which reads as follows:
L/C 4605 — 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 to a consulting or attending physicians whom he desires.
As noted above, one of the problems has been who has been paying the non-Medical Provider Network doctors’ fees. Up to this point in time, the applicant’s attorneys have been burying these costs when they send the injured employees to their doctors. The doctors are instructed to treat and to then file a lien for their fees which are normally dealt with at the time the claim itself is decided. I am sorry to say, that in the end, the carriers have rolled over and have been picking up these costs without a fight. This, even when there is a valid Medical Provider Network in place and all such services by the non-Medical Provider Network doctor should be objected to and paid for by either the injured employee or better yet, his attorney.
Non-Medical Provider Network Doctors’ Reports
The next issue is the admissibility of the non-Medical Provider Network doctor’s report. The argument has been that since the employee is paying for it, it should be allowed to have weight in the final determination of the claim. Needless to say, we have vigorously objected and in many cases have won. However, the issue was still there until the legislature made a significant change to L/C 4605 which clarified whether these reports could or should be admitted. L/C 4605 has been changed to read as follows effective 1/1/2013:
Nothing contained in this chapter shall limit the right of the employee to provide, at his or her own expense, a consulting physician or any attending physicians who he or she desires. Any report prepared by consulting or attending physicians pursuant to this section shall not be the sole basis for an award of compensation. A qualified medical evaluator (QME) or authorized treating physician (read MPN Primary Treating Physician — PTP) shall address any report procured pursuant to this section and shall indicate whether he or she agrees or disagrees with the findings or opinions stated in the report and shall identify the bases for this opinion.
So you can see that the legislature has spoken and the issue of the admissibility of the reports has been addressed and settled. That is why I feel we will win at the Supreme Court as the legislature has already made the necessary changes to make clear their intent with the law.
So You Ask, “How Does All This Affect Me?”
Effective January 1, 2013, when you have a strong Medical Provider Network in place, the “consulting or attending physician’s” reports will be admissible but will be sent only to the Medical Provider Network’s Primary Treating Physician. That doctor will either accept what the non-Medical Provider Network doctor has stated or reject it. If our doctor rejects it, he/she must justify why they disagree with what the report says. And of greater import is that if they reject it, there is now a dispute over the diagnosis and treatment of the injury and the matter will be sent out for a second opinion by our Medical Provider Network doctor and not the non-Medical Provider Network one chosen by the injured employee.
This approach will save both time and a great deal of money by shortening how long it takes to get an acceptable medical opinion. This will allow the claim to be moved forward and closed in a timely manner and at a much reduced cost.
What Your Injured Employee Needs To Know When Reporting An Injury
The most important thing to remember here is that when an injury occurs to one of your employees, you need to make sure that they know and understand their right to secure outside treatment but at their own expense. This has already had the affect of limiting applicant attorneys from sending their clients out to doctors who list every possible body part available and then treat and treat and treat and treat.