Tag Archives: scif

Appellate Court Rules on IMR Timeframes

The 2nd Appellate District has issued the first of what should prove to be several appellate decisions on the timeliness of independent medical review (IMR) decisions. The court was considering the assertion by a W.C.A.B. panel that IMR timelines are mandatory and that late IMR means the W.C.A.B. — and not doctors — will determine whether treatment is medically necessary.

In SCIF v W.C.A.B. (Margaris), the court annulled the W.C.A.B. decision and remanded with instructions to issue a new decision. The court’s reason for accepting this case was set out early in the decision:

“…We issued a writ of review because this case presents an important issue of first impression regarding the interpretation of section 4610.6, and because it relates to an issue upon which the appeals board has rendered conflicting decisions.”

In its analysis, the court provided an extensive discussion of the history of authorization for medical treatment, the implementation of utilization review (UR) for treatment requests and the enactment of the statutory scheme for IMR.  As noted by the court in SB 228 and 899, the legislature changed both the standards and process used by an employer to evaluate a request for medical treatment. The legislature adopted the medical treatment utilization schedule (MTUS). The legislature then removed the existing process for resolving medical disputes using dueling doctors and required the use of utilization review, which required review of treatment requests in light of the MTUS.

In 2012, the legislature enacted another set of reforms to address disputes over UR determinations. As noted by the court, a UR determination authorizing medical treatment was binding on the employer but became subject to further review through IMR — but only for the employee. The court further observed that even where an IMR determination is ultimately reversed by the W.C.A.B., the issue of medical appropriateness was to be returned to IMR for further review, not decided by the W.C.A.B.

See also: IMR Practices May Be Legal, Yet…  

Turning to the specific issue before it, the court determined the use of “shall” in Labor Code 4610.6 was directive, not mandatory:

“…The appeals board concluded that section 4610.6, subdivision (d), is clear and unambiguous.  According to the appeals board, “shall” is mandatory, and any IMR determination issued after the 30-day time frame is necessarily invalid. In support of this interpretation, the appeals board cited section 15, which provides “‘[s]hall’ is mandatory and ‘may’ is permissive” (§ 15.). Thus, the appeals board concluded that construing “shall” as mandatory, such that an untimely IMR determination is invalid, comports with both the ordinary meaning and the statutory definition of “shall.” As we explain, however, the issue is more nuanced than the appeals board recognized.

We note that section 15, upon which the appeals board relied in this case to support its interpretation of section 4610.6, subdivision (d), juxtaposes “mandatory” against “permissive,” which arguably suggests the legislature used “shall” in the obligatory permissive sense rather than in the mandatory-directory sense, as the appeals board concluded. (See McGee, supra, 19 Cal.3d at p. 960 [discussing section 15 and concluding that “on its face, the statutory language suggests that the legislature intended the present provision to be mandatory (i.e., obligatory), rather than permissive.”]) However, given the difference in meaning given to “shall” in the statutory context, we conclude section 4610.6, subdivision (d), is ambiguous. Accordingly, we move beyond the plain language of that section and consider its meaning with reference to the rest of the statutory scheme and the intent of the legislature.”

The court commented further on this issue:

“Generally, time limits applicable to government action are deemed to be directory, unless the legislature clearly expresses a contrary intent.  (Edwards, supra, 25 Cal.3d at p. 410.) “‘In ascertaining probable intent, California courts have expressed a variety of tests. In some cases, focus has been directed at the likely consequences of holding a particular time limitation mandatory, in an attempt to ascertain whether those consequences would defeat or promote the purpose of the enactment.  [Citations.] Other cases have suggested that a time limitation is deemed merely directory ‘unless a consequence or penalty is provided for failure to do the act within the time commanded.’”

The court also found the lack of a penalty or consequence for noncompliance to be significant. Citing similar language in actions by the state personnel board, which had been held to be directive rather than mandatory, the court suggested a failure to meet the statutory time frame did not result in a loss of jurisdiction. The court also indicates in its review of the mandatory vs. directory dichotomy that statutes that set time frames for government actions that do not include a self-executing consequence are almost universally construed as directory.

The court also noted that construing the 30-day time frame as directory furthers the legislative objective of SB 863.

“We conclude from these findings that the legislature intended to remove the authority to make decisions about medical necessity of proposed treatment for injured workers from the appeals board and place it in the hands of independent, unbiased medical professionals. Construing section 4610.6, subdivision (d), as directory best furthers the legislature’s intent in this regard. The appeals board’s conclusion in this case — that an untimely IMR determination terminates the IMR process and vests jurisdiction in the appeals board to determine medical necessity — is wholly inconsistent with the legislature’s stated goals and their evident intent.

Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, the legislature provided that, “[i]n no event shall a workers’ compensation administrative law judge, the appeals board, or any higher court make a determination of medical necessity contrary to the determination of the independent medical review organization” (Stats. 2012, ch. 363, § 45, codified at § 4610.6, subd. (i)). We find this portion of the statute — particularly the use of the phrase “in no event” — to be a frank expression of the legislature’s desire to remove the issue of medical necessity of proposed treatment from the jurisdiction of the appeals board in all cases subject to IMR. The legislature’s intent would be defeated by giving section 4610.6, subdivision (d), mandatory effect, as the appeals board did in the present case.”

See also: 20 Work Comp Issues to Watch in 2016

Additionally, the applicant attorney argued that the W.C.A.B.’s holding in the Dubon case (Dubon 2) supported the W.C.A.B’s usurpation of authority to decide medical treatment. The court noted the holding in Dubon 2 is supported by the AD’s regulations providing that IMR applies solely to timely and procedurally proper UR but that no similar regulation existed for IMR. The court declined to comment on the W.C.A.B.’s decision in Dubon 2 as the issue was not before it.

Comments and Conclusions:

There are currently two other cases pending in the appellate courts, both in the 3rd appellate district — on this same issue and, interestingly, this case was not the first grant on the issue. However, the court set a very aggressive briefing schedule and, even with multiple amicus briefs it heard, considered and decided this case in, what is by appellate standards, a very short time (less than six months). Clearly the court was very interested in this issue, which had multiple W.C.A.B. panel decisions with conflicting holdings.

The court, in its decision, also rejected arguments offered by both the applicant and the W.C.A.B. that untimely IMR resulted in unnecessary delays — a rationale offered by the majority panel in both Dubon and Margaris. The court, very astutely, noted this argument made no sense given the time frame for obtaining QME opinions or litigating medical treatment issues before the W.C.A.B.  The court pointed out that, even with the delays in completing IMR, the W.C.A.B. decision was more than 13 months after the initial decision in UR and more than 10 months after Maximus rendered its decision. The court was clearly, and properly, skeptical of the argument that letting the W.C.A.B. decide medical issues would result in a more prompt disposition.

The court did offer an option to applicants to challenge untimely UR through the ability to file a petition for writ of mandate to compel a decision. While a statutorily viable option, this is impractical, especially in light of the current timeliness of most IMR determinations. Further, the issue here has never really been the timeliness of IMR. The goal for the applicant attorney bar, and apparently some of the commissioners, has been to usurp the medical decision making process from being medically driven to being litigation-based.

The decision does not provide a lot of nourishment for those who are waiting for some sliver of light on the Dubon 2 issue. The court, in its footnote, declined to really comment on Dubon 2, but it did note there was some basis for the W.C.A.B.’s decision. However, the very strong language of the court emphasizing the public and legislative policy behind having medical decisions made by physicians, and the much greater speed and certainty of the UR/IMR process over the legislatively disfavored litigation process, may provide some hope that, given a chance, the appellate court would also reject the W.C.A.B.’s arguments in support of Dubon 2.

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.

Splitting California Into 6 States? Crazy

If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

Anatole France

Maybe that quote should be, “If 1.3 million people. . . . “ That’s because Tim Draper, having spent $5 million, secured 1.3 million signatures and put a measure on the 2016 California ballot that would split the Golden State into six states.

Calling himself the “risk master,” the 56-year-old, billionaire tech investor expresses his quirky desire to “reboot and refresh our state government” by creating separate areas that would be more governable – think “Hunger Games.”

California is the largest state by population, with 38 million people (12% of the U.S.’s total of 316 million), and third largest by area behind Alaska and Texas. It is the world’s 8th-largest economy. If Draper’s measure were approved, the new state of Silicon Valley would be the wealthiest in the country. Central California would be the poorest.

No state has been created from an existing one since West Virginia split from Virginia in 1863. But California has had at least 30 serious proposals to divide it into multiple states since its statehood in 1850, including a proposal passed by the state senate in 1965 to divide California into two states with the boundary at the Tehachapi Mountains, near Bakersfield. In 1992, the state assembly passed a bill to allow a referendum to partition California into three states: North, Central and South. Pundits referred to these proposed states as Log Land, Fog Land and Smog Land.

It is said that the area of the state adjacent to Oregon, long known by the fiercely independent locals as Jefferson State, produces 60% of the U.S. marijuana crop. Three years ago, ex-Google engineer-turned-political-economist Patri Friedman came up with a goofy proposal to build his own floating libertarian nation 12 miles off the coast of California – Googleland?

Assuming the current state legislature and Congress both approve of Draper’s nonsensical measure, the area we currently call California would have 12 senators in Congress, not two. As much as Texans like their beer, I’m not sure they’d like to see California get a six-pack of senators.

Among the serious repercussions that Draper fails to address are vital state infrastructure issues. These include water distribution, transportation systems, state prisons, the University of California system of 10 campuses and two national laboratories – and the largest and most progressive workers’ compensation system in the country.

Workers’ compensation laws in the U.S. are promulgated on a state-by-state basis. Besides a myriad of workers’ compensation laws, each state’s bureaucracy must produce and enforce a plethora of complex regulations, licensing procedures, collateralization requirements and other rules. States have choices to make about self-insurance, including about workers’ comp pools of smaller employers.

Perhaps one or more of the new six California states would be monopolistic – where workers’ compensation coverage is purchased through the state (as in North Dakota, Ohio, Washington and Ohio). Another possibility is an “opt-out” program (as in Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee) that allows employers to litigate injuries in the civil system, as an alternative to the “exclusive remedy” system.

As if this weren’t enough to be concerned about, the legacy of the current active California workers’ compensation claims would be an issue.

Three key institutions were created by the state legislature and are operated like private companies: the State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF); the California Insurance Guaranty Fund (CIGA); and the Self-Insurers’ Security Fund (SISF). SCIF is the state’s largest workers’ comp insurer and provides an insurance alternative to those companies doing business in California that are unable or unwilling to: (1) purchase workers’ compensation coverage from private competitive insurance carriers, or (2) self-insure. CIGA provides insolvency insurance for property casualty insurers admitted to doing business in the state. SISF provides protection to the state and taxpayers for non-public, self-insured entities by taking over workers’ compensation obligations from entities that have defaulted (79 since its formation in 1984).

These three entities combined cover billions of dollars of known and incurred but not reported (IBNR) workers’ compensation with open claims going back as far as World War II. Their combined assets total in the billions.

How would those three entities be broken up into six pieces and reestablished?