Monday, May 21, 2012

EVIDENCE BASED MEDICINE (EBM) is the new mantra in health care. In its own way, AB 1687 (Fong) is a call for application of  EBM which is supposed to be the basis for Utilization Review (UR) in workers' compensation in California, for management-based authorizations in the nation's HMOs and PPOs, in Medicare, in Medicaid, and for managed care decisions everywhere and anywhere. All the same, proponents of EBM are aware of  high levels of sophisticated hypocrisy that engulf the EBM concept and that may ultimately contribute to its demise.

In California the most recent example revolves about AB 1687 (Fong) which would authorize attorney fees when injured workers who have been awarded future medical care successfully appeal UR decisions that deny prescribed care. AB 1687 has recently been studied in Assembly Appropriations.

Julie Salley-Gray, consultant to the committee, said, according to workcompcentral (WCC, see references below), that the bill will have minimal fiscal impact because challenges to UR denials are relatively infrequent. She is on record as having said that only 6% to 20% of UR requests are denied -- we are advised that her figures come from the California Professional Firefighters  (CPF) who are the sponsors of AB 1687 and who, in turn, got the information from the Division of Workers Compensation (DWC).

Workcompcentral stated in its release of 5/21/12 that the lobbyist for CPF did not return calls asking who in DWC provided this information. Previously, when sought information from this source, we also found that CPF did not return calls or e-mail.  However, workcompcentral also said that Carroll Wills, Communication Director for CPF, attributed the information to Rosa Moran, Administrative Director for DWC. The quote from Moran, however, was not exactly one that imbued readers with confidence, e.g., "I can't speak to when the data was generated, we got the figure from the AD (administative director) this spring and understand it to be current."

This level of response appears casual and not consistent with the high levels of data that insurance companies and their utilization review cohorts exert on doctors to support the medications they prescribe, the diagnostic tests they ask for, and the treatments and surgeries they recommend.

Workcompcentral also queried DWC spokesman Peter Melton whose reply by e-mail to WCC said that DWC does not keep track of UR statistics. Now we appear to gone from debatable EBM statistics to none at all. How is that possible? Reference is then made to a CHSWC lien report that said that treatment authorizations were "in dispute in 70% of liens surveyed." We are also told that the reasons for treatment denials were unknown in 20% of cases. We are then informed that Erika Monterozza, spokeswoman for the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), stated that she couldn't confirm or deny whether DWC provided the information or not. We do not know if anybody asked whether or not any of the data reported turned out to be incorrect or distorted.

Mark Rakich, consultant to the Assembly Insurance Committee, was reported to have stated that the fiscal effects of the bill would include "potentially minor increases of workers' compensation insurance due to the added costs  associated with the relatively few challenges to the relatively few denials."  The trouble is we no longer can tell whether or not the number of challenges is "relatively few" or not.

What we do know is that Gov. Schwarzenegger squandered some of his panache with the new PDRS in 2005 which slashed PD benefits. Treating doctors also know that injured workers are often left stranded and that their PTPs (primary treating physicians) are left holding the malpractice bag when recommened and prescribed procedures and treatments are denied by UR companies which claim to rely on ACOEM or MTUS protocols which in turn claim to be based on EBM.

At this point Mark Gerlach, consultant to the California Applicants' Attorneys Association, hit the nail on the head when he stated that it is important to know the sources for the data in support of the 6% to 20% denial rate that was included in the Appropriations Committee Bill analysis.


Stakeholders, patients most of all, need to know in clear and concise language how EBM is used to authorize, delay, or deny treatment. Stakeholders also need to know if and how DIR and DWC use this information and to what extent its use has become an industry tool that insurance companies and their compliant utilization review companies wield to reduce healthcare expenditures at the expense of injured workers.

In response to queries about how EBM and AB 1687 intertwine, here's our answer: AB 1687 is a step in the right direction because its implementation will enhance impartial application of EBM.

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