Tag Archives: primary treating physician

New Laws … New Responsibilities … New Opportunities

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.

SB 863 Valdez Revisited

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.

Background
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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. We will object to any liens from the consulting physician and will recommend they bill the injured employee directly.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.