Sunday, February 24, 2013


"HOW TO PRACTICE MEDICINE WITHOUT A LICENSE" WAS THE TITLE OF MY OP-ED IN THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, 8/29/08.  The inequities described in that piece have been operative ever since -- but now Senator Beall's legislation, SB 626, will try to restore balance and equity. Comments from the Legislative Counsel's Digest, 2/22/13 include the following (italics):

"Existing law requires an employer to establish a medical treatment utilization review process and ... prohibits any person other than a licensed physician from modifying, delaying, or denying requests for authorization of medical treatment for reasons of medical necessity ... Existing law also provides for an independent medical review process to resolve disputes over a utilization review decision for injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2013,  and for any decision that is communicated ... after July 1, 2013 ...  This bill would revise these provisions to require that medical treatment reviews be conducted by physicians or medcal professionals ... who hold the same California license as the requesting physician (underlining added) ... Existing law prohibits a workers' compensation administrative law judge, the appeals board, or any higher court from making a determination of medical necessity contrary to the determinationn of the independent medical review organization ... This bill would delete that provision (underlining added)."

The current inequity is that under current law pursuant to SB 863 an Independent Medical Review (IMR) process is empowered to resolve disputes over utilization review for injuries occurring on or after 1 January 2013 and for decisions communicated to the requesting physician on or after July 1, 2013, regardless of the date of injury. In this way injured workers are deprived of diagnostic studies or treatment recommended by their Primary Treating Physicians (PTPs). The dispute then gets settled by the IMR process. Unfortunately, under current law,  neither the UR doctors nor their IMR counterparts need be licensed by the Medical Board of California. No matter how harmful or egregiously wrong their decisions are they are not subject to the same discipline as the PTPs all of whom are licensed in the states in which they practice.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO,  passed a resolution at its International Convention in Chicago in 2006. The resolution stated that "physicians working for utilization review companies reviewing the claims of injured workers be licensed in the states in which their decisions are used and where their decisions may influence the provision or denial of medical care to injured workers."

SB 626 would mandate that medical treatment reviews and independent medical reviews be done by physicians or medical professionals "who hold  the same California license as the requesting physician."

Incredibly, under current law, a cadre of secret doctors has been empowered. The names of the IMR doctors are "protected" by law, that means, concealed from view. Our previous blogs on SB 863 discuss this ablation of due process in more detail.

SB 626 would delete the requirement that that IMR doctors' names be kept secret.

California AFSCME's stand in favor of SB 863 was inadvertently a stand against its own organization's International Resolution. The political pressures to do so at the time were intense (Governor Brown wanted it -- see previous blogs re why).  We look forward to California's AFSCME coming on board SB 626.

Not only that. SB 863 actually prohibits due process and fair play because it prohibits workers' comp administrative law judges, the WCAB,  or even higher courts from making determinations of medical necessity that would set aside an IMR ruling against an injured worker. SB 626 would delete this provision.

More to follow. Stay tuned. But first, get on board -- readers may contribute their own comments on-line directly to this blog.

Here is a comment from CRIS FORSYTH, CHIEF OF STAFF, SENATOR JIM BEALL, DISTRICT 15: "Relative to your question regarding comments ... advocating for the bill.  I cannot fathom more eloquent prose than that which you have already professed."

Well, Cris, we'll do our best: SB 626 is courageous legislation that would restore honor to a process that has become the domain of insurance companies and their allies. It's also an American political anomaly that some parts of big labor identify more with business interests than with workers and would let injured workers be deprived of the medical and surgical treatment they need and heartfully believed they earned


  1. Thank you, Cris, SB 626 (Beall) could restore honor to the workers comp program and prevent rapidly escalating denials of needed and indicated care. An anomaly in California is that much of Big Labor is more compliant with business interests than with the needs of injured workers. Today I met with active rank and file members of CSEA (California School Employees Association) and CHP (California Highway Patrol) who've have first hand knowledge about how the Utilization Review process works against the IW (injured worker) and how the Independent Medical Review procss will provide more of the same.

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