YES, re AB 1687 (Fong): it gives injured workers a fair chance!
According to the California Professional Firefighters (CPF) website this bill to make limited reforms in workers' compensation utilization review (UR) procedures will require that "communications about a delay, modification or denial of workers comp treatment would be required to include prominently displayed alternatives for the injured worker's next steps. In addition, if a related medical treatment dispute arises, and enforcement of a future medical award is required for continuing an injured worker's medical treatment, this bill allows the Workers Compensation Appeals Board to award reasonably-incurred attorney's fees in instances where an injured worker prevails in validating the medical award." We feel this bill is a step in the right direction so we recommend a yes vote.
Previously, we've crticized the bill because we felt it didn't go far enough since it doesn't require that doctors who do UR in California be licensed in California. As matters stand now, doctors with only Texas licenses may do UR in California whereas doctors with only California licenses cannot do UR in Texas. The California policy caters to insurance companies that use non-California doctors to issue UR denials -- that saves money for the insurance companies since they don't pay for treatment that has been denied by UR.
The overall loss to California in terms of fees and taxes is about $10,000,000 per year, a total of $30,000,000 when we take into account that Schwarzenegger vetoed this legislation twice and Brown, once. Protection of the insurance industry seems to be an area where Schwarzenegger and Brown agree.
Now comes Paul Fong with AB 1687 which would not require licensure in California but which would call for reasonable explanations of denial of care and that these denials of care be in clear and concise language.
Existing law requires that workers injured in the course of employment get indicated medical treatment and that they get compensated. Unreasonable denials of care are supposed to be subject to penalties and attorney fees. The trouble is that this requirement is commonly pushed aside while the two-year disability limit runs out. The current review process is not equitable because the degree to which UR doctors especially unlicensed ones are independent is questionable. In our view, the current system has already run roughshod over the workers' comp reforms embodied in SB 899, which many now feel was a shoddily written and hastily approved backroom agreement.
It's time to try again: it's time to give AB 1687 (Fong) a chance. If that doesn't work, we'll see about running a new licensure bill unless Fong and CPF decide to include such an amendment in AB 1687.
"How to practice medicine without a license," Robert L. Weinmann, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/29/08
"Utilization Review as a gift to insurance companies," TotalCapitol.com, posted by Bob Weinmann, 3/11/12
"Committee Passes Bill Authorizing Attorney Fees in UR Disputes," by Greg Jones, Western Bureau Chief, workcompcentral, 4/19/12
"Bills Target UR Denial," by Greg Jones, Western Bureau Chief, 3/20/12, workcompcentral, 3/20/12
"UR Data in Bill Analysis Highlights Need for Good Data," by Greg Jones, Western Bureau Chief, workcompcentral, 5/21/2012