In a master stroke of double-edged legislative slight of hand, Governor Brown vetoed a bill that would've given injured workers a fighting chance when faced with wrongful denial of treatment.
In his veto message, the Governor said "The recently enacted landmark comprehensive workers' compensation reform legislation makes this measure unnecessary. These reforms -- backed by both Democrats and Republicans -- reduce costs to businesses and protect workers. Further, they will help to avert an imminent crisis of skyrocketing rates that would have hurt both injured workers and businesses."
Yeah, right! There's a line about this kind of reasoning in The King and I when the beleagured king says he doesn't know whether or not to make an alliance with a stronger country. The weaker countries, he says, can't really help him. By contrast the larger and stronger countries may protect him out of everything he has. That's the situation injured workers will face when SB 863 becomes effective on 1 Jan 2013. They'll be "protected" out of some benefits they currently have in return for some benefits many will never get.
The recently enacted reform legislation to which the Governor refers is SB 863 which creates a secret panel of Independent Medical Review (IMR) doctors who will replace the current Utilization Review system (UR). Currently, utilization review doctors can be challenged in court for incorrect decisions. Under the new system the IMR doctors can only be challenged for bias, fraud, or conflict of interest. Trouble is that SB 863 also contains a provision which protects and conceals the names of the IMR doctors.
SB 863 increases permanent disability (PD) in one section of the legislation while another part of the bill disqualifies conditions that currently qualify for PD such as dyssomnia from chronic pain and sexual dysfunction from spinal injuries.
On the other hand, Paul Fong's legislation, AB 1687, would have required denials of care to be made in plain language so that obfuscations and wrongful denials of treatment dished out to injured workers could be stopped dead in their perfidious tracks. Now that that bill has been vetoed, injured workers have lost their last chance at fair play.
We have witnessed a sleek lesson in political maneuvering. First, the Governor personally worked for passage of SB 863 with its provision for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and keeping secret the names of Independent Medical Review (IMR) doctors. One would think the unions would have opposed the bill because of the ADR provision alone. One might even have expected principled opposition from the California Medical Association (CMA) because of the secrecy provisions that would be bestowed on an entire cadre of doctor-judges including doctors unlicensed to practice in California. In fact, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Southern California District Council, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, SEIU 121, and the United Firefighters of Los Angeles did oppose SB 863. But the California Labor Federation which helped create the bill with the assistance of big business including Grimmway Farms got support from other unions including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and from the California Medical Association (CMA).
One of the same unions that supported AB 1687, the California Labor Federation, was simultaneously involved in writing SB 863 with provisions that would eventually doom AB 1687, e.g., the secrecy provisions protecting the non-California licensed doctors. It's logical that if the Governor supported SB 863 he would veto AB 1687 since enforcement of AB 1687 would put a legal crimp into the secrecy provisions of SB 863. The California Labor Federation's support for AB 1687 came before SB 863 was completely written. In short, CLF was engaged in the composition of SB 863 even while CLF was ostensibly supporting AB 1687. AB 1687 passed the legislature before SB 863 was finalized. Fong's bill turned out to be an inconvenience to Gov. Brown and to the California Labor Federation and was doomed for failure once SB 863 passed. When SB 863 got signed by the Governor, the fate of AB 1687 was sealed.
The Open Government website reports that Assemblyman Fong voted for SB 863 which turns out to have been equivalent to voting against his own bill. The irony is that Paul Fong was obliged to stand by while SB 863 got signed into law and his own bill got vetoed.
Score: Governor Brown goes 2 for 2, Fong is 1 for 2, while the injured worker community goes scoreless, again.