WORKERS COMP AMBUSH sprung, well, almost!
Secretly, furtively, behind the proverbial closed doors that skilled political operatives deny exist, a carefully crafted bill has been sewn together by masters, namely, Angie Wei, legislative director of the California Labor Federation (CLF) and Sean McNally, vice president for corporate and government affairs at Grimmway Farms. The proposed legislation will boost profits for management groups while reducing access to specialty care for injured workers. CLF will justify the slashed medical benefit to injured workers by pointing out that the legislation will increase permanent disability benefits to injured workers by $700 million. CLF may not want to admit that the proposed legislation will also cut about $1.4 billion in costs in part by reducing access to specialty care. CLF may not disclose that many injured workers who need advanced or specialized medical care cease to become dues-paying union members. So what they think won't matter.
Voters Injured at Work (VIAW) takes particular offense at having the Official Medical Fee Schedule (OMFS) supplanted by the Medicare RBRVS. SB 923 (Deleon) failed last year but is still on the current agenda as a two-year bill. Its provisions are included in the current concoction that CLF and Grimmway have grimly crafted. This column has already exposed who stands to benefit from SB 923 (see our glossary). This provision as either an independent bill or as part of a so-called reform package is designed to reduce payments to specialists, particulary focussing on procedures. Its design supposedly increases payments to primary care physicans (PTPs) -- but neither SB 923 nor the so-called reform package tell you which management groups supporting these bills derive their income by charging management fees to PTP groups such as US Health Works. Hence, one of the beneficiaries is the management entities that deploy salaried physicians.
VIAW puts it this way: "Injured workers need both primary care physicians and specialists, but VIAW cannot support any proposal that funds an increase for one class of physicians at the expense of another."
The California Society of Industrial Medicine and Surgery (CSIMS) pointed out that "Unfortunately, the unions didn't ask any injured workers to help with the legislation and the large employers didn't ask small employers."
The Senate Republican Caucus stated that "the fact that insurers and non-unionized, non-self-insured/smaller employers are not at the negotiating table should be cause for some concern."
Not all stakeholders have fully displayed their own hands so far. We await up to date comment from the California Medical Association (CMA), the California Applicants Attorneys Association (CAAA), the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD), and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME, AFL-CIO). We await action from physicians' specialty organizations such as the California Neurology Society (CNS filed a letter against SB 923), and the professional groups that claim to represent other specialties such as the orthopedists, the physical medicine and rehab doctors, and specialists in pain management.
CMA's position on SB 923 is "oppose unless amended" while the UAPD's position is "watch." Watch what, we wonder? Will CMA expand its "unless amended" statement and lobby legislative offices?
Next in line for concern and comment is Utilization Review. This column has already discussed AB 1687 (Fong), supported by the UAPD and CSIMS (see our glossary again). The reform package adds a new level of bureaucracy. The Labor Code would be altered such that treatment or medication disputes, including surgical options, would go to an Independent Medical Review (IMR). Like the current Utilization Review (UR) process, the IMR assignee would not interview or examine the patient, thereby preserving the worst part of the current UR process. The only grounds for appeal would be fraud, bias, or conflict of interest. We await commentary and action from CAAA on this method of protecting wrongul UR.
The outlook is for the complete ambush to be sprung at the end of the current legislative session. Will a hasty vote by many legislators who haven't been adequately briefed come down to a last minute trade-a-vote exchange?
References for further study
"Medical Development Trends in California Workers' Compensation, Accident Years, 2002-2010, California Workers Compensation Institute
"Medical Benefit Delivery in California Workers' Compensation, changes in Network Utilization and Reimbursement, 2004-2010, CWCI
"California Workers Compensation, 2012," prepared by Mark Gerlach, California Applicants' Attorneys Association, January, 2012
"Workers' Compensation Reform: Undoing the Damage of Schwarzenegger's Rules," March, 2012, California Labor Federation
"How to take away even more Care from Injured workers," Robert L. Weinmann, MD, California Progress Report, 5 July 2011
"How to practice medicine without a license," Robert L. Weinmann, MD, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/29/08
"Utilization Review as a gift to insurance companies," Totalcapitol.com, Bob Weinmann, 3/11/12
"UR a battleground in Comp Reform, Greg Jones, Western Bureau Chief, workcompcentral.com, 5/25/12
"Reforms would cut $1.4B to fund $700M benefits increase," Greg Jones, Western Bureau Chief, 8/10/2012
"Deal on California workers' comp likely," Mark Lifsher, Los Angeles Times, 8/09/12
"Reform appears to be on its way to California's workers' compensation system once more," California Society of Industrial Medicine and Surgery, 8/09/12