Tag Archives: medical board

Legislative Preview for Work Comp in 2016

Common wisdom suggests that major workers’ compensation legislative activity won’t take place during an election year. For 2016, that would seem to hold true.

That is not to say, however, that various interested parties will be sitting idly by, waiting for the clock to turn to 2017.

CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL ADD TO THE LIST OF CHRONIC PAIN GUIDELINES

On Jan. 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) closed the public comment period for its proposed Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. According to the CDC, the guideline is being proposed to offer “… clarity on recommendations based on the most recent scientific evidence, informed by expert opinion, with stakeholder and constituent input considered.”

The guideline goes to great lengths to address two important issues. The first is that current guidelines in many states – both public and private – are based on dated information. The second, which is critical, adds to the growing number of voices to say that best practices for providers include accessing physician drug monitoring programs (PDMP) to reduce the risk of doctor shopping and toxic – and sometimes fatal – mixtures of prescription drugs when the patient provides incomplete histories or none at all of their drug use (both prescription and illicit).

This need to access a PDMP before, and during, treatment with opioids is echoed by the Medical Board of California (MBC) and the DWC. Their comments also underscore a considerable problem facing California policymakers when trying to create incentives for providers to use the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) without directly mandating access.

This dilemma is best summed up by the analysis of Senate Bill 482 by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D – Bell Gardens) that is at the Assembly Desk pending referral to committee. The bill, which would mandate participation in the CURES system as well as other measures to curb the abuse of opioids, has garnered opposition from medical associations and one medical malpractice insurer. The opposition, according to analyses by legislative staff, is based on two issues – the first being whether the CURES system is capable of handling the volume of inquiries a mandate would engender, and the second being concern that requiring CURES access will become a standard of care that could subject providers to malpractice liability.

As to the former, this issue arose during the campaign waged against the 2014 ballot measure Proposition 46. According to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), “Currently, CURES does not have sufficient capacity to handle the higher level of use that is expected to occur when providers are required to register beginning in 2016.” This raises an important question – does the CURES system now have the capability to meet the demand that a mandate would create? If it doesn’t, then the legislature needs to understand why.

As to the second issue, it is difficult to comprehend the level of distrust that is subsumed in the position that opposing a mandatory review of possible prescription drug abuse by a patient would establish more potential malpractice liability than knowing that the CURES database exists and not checking it. In time, perhaps, it will be the appellate courts that resolve that issue.

There is no shortage of guidelines that address the appropriate use and cessation of use of opioids for non-cancer chronic pain. The DWC is finalizing its latest iteration on this issue as part of the MTUS. It will differ from both the CDC and the MBC guidelines to some degree, but the overall treatment of this issue is very similar. In addition, the division will be implementing a prescription drug formulary as required by Assembly Bill 1124 by former Assembly member Henry Perea (D – Fresno). That, too, will likely provide opportunities to address the proper use of opioids in the workers’ compensation context, preferably after the chronic pain guidelines are completed.

As noted by the CDC and the MBC, and implicit in the DWC’s guidelines, this is not just a question of UR. If all the work by the division is simply viewed as a more effective way of saying “no” regardless of the circumstances, then the public health issues associated with the abuses of opioids will continue.

Workers’ Compensation Insights is a bi-monthly publication of Prop 23 Advisors. Subscribers will receive in-depth analyses of pending California legislation and regulations, review of important WCAB and appellate court decisions and commentary on trends within the system in California and nationally. To read the rest of this newsletter, click here.

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.

Are MPNs Hindering Quality Care?

Have medical provider networks (MPNs) lived up to expectations of improving access to quality of care while reducing medical costs? Recent accusations raised against Janak K. Mehtani, M.D. (“Mehtani”) before the Medical Board of California, Department of Consumer Affairs, would suggest not. (Specific details relating to case # 02 2012224474, effective Jan. 13, 2015, are available on the Medical Board of California website, under the option “Verify a License.” At time of writing, a hearing had not been held, and the case status description states, “The physician has not had a hearing or been found guilty of any charges.”

Following the investigation of a lodged complaint relating to this case, the executive director of the Medical Board of California raised the following accusations (1) gross negligence, (2) repeated negligent acts, (3) prescribing dangerous drugs without appropriate examination or medical indication, (4) failure to maintain adequate and accurate medical records and (5) general unprofessional conduct.

These accusations relate to three workers’ compensation claims for services provided between 2008 and 2013. Two claims were identified as belonging to State Compensation Insurance Fund (“SCIF”) (patients JC and RW) while the insurer for the third claim, involving a non-English-speaking 47-year-old female with a history of hypertension and chronic pain (patient GC), was not identified.

This article reviews the claims administrators’ implementation of MPNs with reference to patient GC in the Mehtani case.

Insurers promote their MPNs as being quality medical providers who have undergone extensive credentialing before selection, with continuing quality assurance control of their services. Yet a random sample of insurers’ MPN lookup facilities showed Mehtani — a psychiatrist with a practice Sacramento — being currently available to provide treatment, even though there are very serious accusations currently lodged against him. There is no warning, link or reference to the medical board website to alert an injured employee or the employer.

Information shown on claims administrators’ MPN websites to assist an employee in selecting a provider or medical specialty, such as a psychiatrist, is limited to basic contact details, such as address, phone number, distance from a specified location (such as city or Zip code), gender and language. In the case of Mehtani, there is inconsistency in the list of languages spoken; some MPNs list Hindi and Punjabi, while others include Spanish. Does providing only minimal information limit the opportunity for correctly “matching” the patient (i.e., injured employee) to the medical provider, potentially compromising the physician-patient relationship?

Additional information in psychiatry would provide better opportunities for matching patient with psychiatrist. Sub-specialties such as psychosomatic medicine, addiction medicine or administrative psychiatry play key roles in the selection process. So do special interests such as psychopharmacology and pain management and additional training in psychoanalysis at institutes such as the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA). Rapport between the psychiatrist and patient is of paramount importance and is assisted further when matching is based on race, ethnicity and cultural groups.

While a review identified 120 psychiatrists located within two miles of the central business district of Sacramento (CBD), a random selection of insurers’ MPNs identified only one psychiatrist, in this case Mehtani, as being within 200 miles of the CBD. Can this list be considered adequate for the employee to choose a psychiatrist, let alone attempt to “best match” a patient to a psychiatrist?

Some researchers suggest that, in patients with chronic pain, a psychiatrist may be the person best qualified to distinguish between medical comorbidity and concomitant somatic complaints and that the patients require careful multidisciplinary treatment, in which psychiatry can play an important role. Patient GC experienced a number of work-related injuries commencing in 2003 and was first seen by Mehtani in 2008, after experiencing depression and anxiety for two to three years. In line with a multidisciplinary treatment plan, Mehtani referred patient GC out for pain management and to a therapist for cognitive behavior management. Mehtani was to manage medications and provide supportive psychotherapy once a month for 12 months.

But who was responsible for approving and selecting the providers’ Pain management providers are generally listed on MPN lists, but a random selection of MPNs found that cognitive behavior therapists and others providing cognitive behavior therapy, such as psychologists, mental health nurses and psychiatrists, were either not listed or not identified as providing cognitive behavior therapy. This lack further demonstrates the limitations of MPNs in selecting medical providers.

In the multidisciplinary or multidimensional approach to addressing chronic pain, an interdisciplinary approach is also required to maximize a psychiatrist’s role in the treatment plan, where all parties involved work in a coordinated fashion. The overall responsibility of ensuring the multidisciplinary team adheres to a common objective rests with the claims administrator. In the case of patient GC, the claims administrator should have been responsible for all the activities performed by the psychiatrist (Mehtani), the pain management provider, the therapist providing cognitive behavior therapy, the primary treating physician and the pharmacist in cases where medications were being dispensed by an insurer’s pharmacy network or a pharmacy was linked to an insurer’s pharmacy benefit manager (PBM). Pharmacists and pharmacies can be held accountable for failing to identify and verify red flags that may appear when a prescription is presented. In the Mehtani case, the issue of prescribed medications is being raised in the accusations.

Documentation required by psychiatrists has been an issue of contention for some time, with many psychiatrists believing that they do not need to perform the same level of documentation generally required for “physiology-based medicine.” Lack of documentation has also been raised in the Mehtani case.

Quality assurance controls for providers can be accomplished in many ways, including automation. Technology is available to monitor diagnoses (DSM-5, ICD-9 and ICD-10), treatments rendered (CPT codes) and pharmaceuticals dispensed through the National Drug Code (NDC) to track treatment and recovery progress, as well as monitor each provider’s contribution to the objectives set by the claims administrator.

Patient GC had 40 visits for “medical psychoanalysis” with Mehtani between 2010 and 2013. All visits would have been invoiced by Mehtani and would have required documentation before payment was made. As lack of documentation was mentioned in the accusation document for all three patients, how was the claims administrator monitoring treatment progress and determining payment for services rendered over the period that Mehtani treated patient GC and the others?

The current health status of all three patients and whether they have returned to normality has not been stated in the accusation document. Patient GC was first injured in 2003, patient JC was injured in 1989, and no injury date was recorded for patient RW. Regardless of the outcome of the Mehtani hearing, could the injured employees file a tort claim against the insurer as to lack of quality care provided by their MPNs? Could a tort claim be filed by the employer against the insurer with regard to lack of controls to vet and verify costs associated with providing medical treatments by their MPNs? Although tort claims by the employee against the employer are not permitted under the workers’ compensation agreement, the insurer and claims administrator are not direct parties to this agreement.

The question remains unanswered, of whether current workers’ compensation medical treatment practices based on group health managed care programs, such as MPNs, are diametrically opposed to the workers’ compensation ethos of “return to work” where “utmost good faith” between interested parties is the aspiration. This article however, suggests that they most probably are diametrically opposed.

For a more detailed outline of the processes and procedures claims administrators can utilize to manage and monitor their medical providers, refer to the article titled, “Treating Pain Pharmacologically,” available from the website managingdisability.com under the Dialogue tab.

Prescription Drug Abuse – Progress In Sacramento

On May 30, the California Senate passed Senate Bill 809 (DeSaulnier) unanimously. This bill has as its primary goal the continued funding of the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) in the California Department of Justice. Over the past year, considerable attention has been brought to the issue of abuse of prescription painkillers nationwide and across all benefit systems. Well-publicized research in California by the California Workers' Compensation Institute (CWCI) and multi-state analyses by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc. (NCCI) and the Workers' Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) have quantified the tragic effects of over-prescribing these medications.

SB 809 seeks to do more, however, than simply develop a stable funding source for this program. The recent Senate action, while important, demonstrates that not all issues surrounding the CURES program are likely to be resolved in 2013. As a series of investigative reports done by the Los Angeles Times pointed out, participation in the CURES program by physicians is not mandatory, and there is no adequate mechanism in place to report unusual prescribing patterns by physicians to the Medical Board of California. While the funding legislation for CURES will address the latter problem, there is still no requirement that prescribers access the database before prescribing a Schedule II – IV controlled substance. However, all prescribers and dispensers will be required to register with the CURES system, which in and of itself is an important development for the Department of Justice and the Medical Board in their efforts to identify and investigate abusive prescription patterns and to combat diversion of the medications for illicit purposes.

Also, stripped from the bill was a tax on manufacturers of controlled substances that would have been used for enhanced law enforcement capabilities throughout the state. This was a critical development that policy makers still need to address, either in this legislation or through the budget process.

Even though a targeted tax on manufacturers is not palatable to the Legislature, the need to fund better enforcement of the laws governing illicit sales of prescription drugs remains a high priority. The funding in the current bill will allow the CURES program to be maintained and improved, but law enforcement will still not have what it needs to investigate physicians and pharmacists who are violating the law and bring them to justice.

While California's workers' compensation system does not have the same level of protections against prescription drug abuse as other state workers' compensation systems, there are resources at our disposal to limit the danger of these medications.

The Medical Treatment Utilization Schedule, utilization review, and Independent Medical Review (IMR) recently added by Senate Bill 863 will assist payers in their effort to curb overutilization of these medications while still addressing the very real clinical need for relief from acute pain and management of chronic pain resulting from an occupational injury. The Division of Workers' Compensation is expected to release new guidelines on pain management later this year that should further assist in this process. And the workers' compensation system, like all other healthcare financing programs, will benefit from the enactment of SB 809. It's a good start, but we are a long way away from declaring this problem solved.

The abuse of high powered prescription pain medication is a public health crisis with workers' compensation implications. The path to a solution requires the active participation of the medical and pharmacy communities, drug manufacturers, law enforcement, medical benefit payers — whether public programs, private group health plans or workers' compensation insurers and self-insured employers — and state and federal agencies and boards overseeing the development and use of these medications.

Progress is being made, but more work needs to be done. The goal is not simply for payers to be better able to say “no”. The goal is also not simply being able to avoid the costs of these medications and the complications their abuse creates and have those costs be borne somewhere else. The goal is delivering the highest quality treatment for an injured worker. A back injury, for example, doesn't automatically require surgery in all circumstances any more than it requires an injured worker to face the prospect of drug dependency.

If we use the tools at our disposal compassionately and intelligently and if we continue to press policy makers and regulators to take all steps necessary to protect patients from the improper use of these medications, then we will be able to measure success in more than dollars saved. If Governor Brown gets SB 809 on his desk and signs it, it will become effective immediately. That's a good first step, but there will still be much work to do.