As you may already know, 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 This was initially an unpublished decision. However, plaintiff’s counsel petitioned the court which did in fact publish the opinion giving it precedential status. In other words, it could be cited in other cases with the same or similar issues.
In its simplest terms, it says in part that an injured employee may be treated by his/her own non-Medical Provider Network physician pursuant to Labor Code (L/C) 4605 for diagnosis, treatment and attendant reports. The case goes on to acknowledge that the employee is responsible for the payment of these services and that any reports generated by the non-Medical Provider Network doctor are admissible. However, the case was remanded to the trial court to deal with the admissibility as well as other issues left unsettled by the Workers’ Compensation Judge at the time of trial.
However, as you will see below, I am pleased to report that the defense strategy we developed allowing employers to use the current Medical Provider Network system to its fullest advantage was adopted by the Legislature in the recently passed SB 863. This was due to the amendment to Labor Code 4605 as discussed below.
The current Labor Code 4605 was first enacted in 1917 as a part of the then Insurance and Safety Act. Sec. 9(a) of that act is most interesting from a historical perspective 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 is now found in L/C 4600(a); 4601 and 4605.
The reason this section is important is that Section 9(a) pre-dates Labor Code 4616, the Medical Provider Network statute. As such, any attempt prior to SB 863 to harmonize the rights of the employee to seek their own doctor at their own expense against the later-enacted Medical Provider Network statute would have to give precedent to the later-enacted labor code section (L/C 4616).
Labor Code 4605 Amended By SB 863
However, all of that was changed with SB 863 which amends Labor Code 4605 in such a way that makes clear the admissibility and subsequent value of any non-Medical Provider Network generated reports:
“Section 4605 of the Labor Code is amended to read:
4605. Nothing contained in this chapter shall limit the right of the employee to provide, at his or her own expense, a consulting physician or attending physicians whom he or she desires. Any report prepared by consulting or attending physicians pursuant to this section shall not be the sole basis of an award of compensation. A qualified medical evaluator (QME) or authorized treating physician 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.”
Strategy For The Use Of Labor Code 4605 And Medical Provider Networks Going Forward
Employers and their claims administrators (carrier or Third Party Administrator) must aggressively assert and maintain their medical control over any new claim reported under their Medical Provider Network to make this strategy work.
First, employers need to be sure that the required Medical Provider Network notice to each employee and the Labor Code required general postings are complete and well documented.
It is important to note that SB 863 also made significant changes to 4616, the Medical Provider Network statute. However, even with these changes, an employer’s best defense will continue to be quality documentation regarding policies and procedures on their handling of the Medical Provider Network notification and enforcement process which will block applicant attorneys’ (A/A) attempt to seize medical control for failure to comply with the statute.
Consulting And Attending Physicians
The important question raised by Valdez dealing with the use of Labor Code 4605 by applicant attorneys as a means to get their non-Medical Provider Network doctors reports admitted has been resolved. Labor Code 4605, as amended, has clarified clearly and concisely to who and how the non-Medical Provider Network doctor(s) reports are to be submitted and used.
As noted above, “A qualified medical evaluator or authorized treating physician shall address any report procured pursuant to this section and shall indicate whether he or she (my emphasis) agrees or disagrees with the findings or opinions…” You will note that only a qualified medical evaluator in a non-Medical Provider Network claims environment or the “authorized treating physician” which in the case of a Medical Provider Network is the Primary Treating Physician (PTP) have control over the use of such pro-offered reports.
Recommended Procedure Under Labor Code 4605 As Amended
- As a first step, I recommend that the injured employee be informed, as part of the employer’s or claims professional’s acknowledgment of the claim, that a valid Medical Provider Network is in place and that the employee’s cooperation is expected.
- The same initial notice should also state “that the employee is free under Labor Code 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 Labor Code 4605, their consulting or attending physician’s medical reports will be tendered to the Primary Treating Physician (PTP) for this injury who, under the Medical Provider Network statute, is the controlling doctor (Labor Code 4061.5). Under this scenario, the consulting or attending physician’s report will be submitted to either the qualified medical evaluator or Primary Treating Physician to be used 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 will be handled under the Medical Provider Network’s 2nd, 3rd and if necessary, the Independent Medical Review process and NOT through a Panel Qualified Medical Evaluator.
- 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 treatment, testing and other costs.
- We will object to any liens from the consulting physician and will recommend they bill the injured employee directly.
- Should the employee continue to refuse to be seen by our Medical Provider Network doctors and treat with the non-Medical Provider Network physician, then a Notice of Suspension of Benefits will be sent to the injured employee, his attorney (if there is one), and the non-treating physician. The notice will inform all of the above that all benefits including both Temporary Total Disability and medical treatment are suspended under Labor Code 4053 for failure to comply with a written demand. It will go on to say that the suspension can be lifted by the injured employee simply showing up at our Medical Provider Network doctor for diagnosis and if necessary, treatment.
- 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.