Monday, April 15, 2013

SB 626 (Beall) Tackles SB 863 (DeLeon)

Scaramento Shenanigans : SB 626 (Beall) versus SB 863 (deLeon)

(as of Tax Day, 15 April 2013)

Senate Bill 626 (Beall) is to be heard on April 24th by the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee chaired by the Hon. Ted Lieu. We recommend support.

SB 626 (Beall)  is prompted by the passage and implementation of SB 863 (deLeon) from last year. SB 863,  woefully tilted to insurance company interests,  at first seemed unlikely to be taken seriously. Nonetheless,  buttressed by the insurance industry, SB 863 made it across the finish line. Purporting to act in support of the employer community,  SB 863 last year was rescued by the personal intervention of Governor Brown. Showing both political mastery and subservience to insurance company interests, Brown single-handedly rescued it with one day to go in the legislative year.  SB 626 would reverse much of SB 863. Here's why:

Secrecy in Peer Review for IMR reviewiers

Flying in the face of pleas for transparency, SB 863 provides secrecy for Independent Medical Review (IMR) doctors, hand-picked in part because they're expected to serve the overall interests of the insurance companies. To make sure that wrongful twists and turns IMR docs take that buttress insurance company interests aren't investigated by the Medical Board of California (MBC)  these doctors don't have to be licensed in California. They're exempt from the surveillance of the MBC. In addition, their names are not to be released -- students of history know about the notorious "lettres de cachet" that the French nobility used before the 1789 revolution to imprison political opponents.  SB 626 cancels this unwarranted immunity and subjects IMR doctors to the same discipline as doctors licensed in California.

The argument in favor of secrecy has usually been that the insurance companies can't find enough licensed California doctors to do the job. It was conveniently ignored when this argument previously arose that EK Health had so many applicants for utilization review jobs that the company had to create a waiting list.  It was also argued that similar secrecy provisions were already in place for private insurance. This argument is flat out false. Private insurers do not use  a "lettres de cachet" system. The names of their reviewers are made known. It also turns out that the vast majority of injured workers get treatment through their Medical Provider Networks (MPNs). In these cases, where the treatment of an MPN doctor is surveyed, the IMR reviewer's name is not kept secret. The inequity of these comparisons show why the IMR secrecy imposed by SB 863 should be obliterated.

Secrecy in Utilization Review (UR

This issue was reviewed by the Office of Administrative Law in 2006 (I submitted a written protest then on behalf of  the Union of American Physicians and Dentists). In general, the careless wording of the law, approved by legislators whose attention to detail should have been better, did not specify licensure in California as a necessary requirement to doing Utilization Review in California. All the law requires is that the UR doctors be "competent to evaluate the specific clinical issues" of the case at hand. In many cases there is debate about this very point, but there is no debate at all about the requirement to be licensed in California -- the latter is simply not required even though the MBC itself has gone on record as saying such licensure should be required.

SB 626 would require California licensure of all doctors doing Utilization Review and/or Independent Medical Review for injured workers in California. 

In fact, the largest labor union in the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME),  voted unanimously for this position in 2006 at its International Convention in Chicago. All the same, California AFSCME supported SB 863 last year. We don't know at this writing where California AFSCME stands on SB 626 (yes, we've asked and await reply).

Economics: how California loses $10 million in taxable revenue

Most well respected insurance companies, State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF) among them, want their Utilization Review doctors to be familiar with California law. In Texas, for instance, licensure is required for doctors who want to do utilization review there -- so we have an anomalous situation where doctors licensed in Texas are enabled to do UR in California without a California license whereas California-licensed doctors cannot do UR in Texas unless they also get licensed in Texas. California loses about $10 million annual revenue by allowing UR to be farmed out to non-California doctors in other states. The job-killer here is the legislaure which has found a way in a cash-strapped state to ship $10 million in annual revenue to other states.

The March of the Lawyers

The legal issue is to what extent it is or is not proper to eliminate the WCAB (Workers Comp Appeals Board) from overturning decisions. SB 863 butted its way into this controversy by prohibiting workers comp judges and the WCAB itself from adjudicating disputed issue of medical necessity. This contrivance of law then freed the IMR reviewers from their last constrant -- under present law, SB 863 having been signed into law, IMR reviewers may have their names kept secret, need not be licensed in the state where they practice, and need not worry about having egregiously wrong and harmful decisions overturned by any court. That's because SB 863 limits appeals to fraud, conflict of interest,  bias, and mistake of fact -- not easy to determine if the reviewer is entitled to secrecy.

The legal question that arises is whether or not Article XIV, Section 4, California Constitution, has been violated. Here's part of what it says: "all decisions of any such tribunal shall be subject to review by the appellate courts of the state." SB 626 would make sure that it does.

Chiropractic prejudice?

Injured workers who choose chiropractic as their primary source of treatment run into downright prejudice. Doctors of chiropractic, just as doctors of medicine or dentists, are licensed medical providers.  But SB 863 makes sure that some providers are less equal than others by inserting and implementing a provision that limits chiropractors from serving as primary treating physicians (PTPs) after about 24 treatments. The chiropractic profession is rightfully outraged at this preclusion since it forces injured workers to seek out providers other than the ones they've already chosen and with whom they may be satisfied.  It's as though patient-staisfaction or injured-worker satisfaction doesn't  matter. Clearly, to the writers of SB 863, it didn't matter enough. 

Of interest to purveyors of evidence-based-medicine (EBM) is the origin of the limitation to 24 treatments, often also applied to physical therapists where the treatments may've been ordered by PTPs who are MDs or DOs. It appears that the number, 24, is arbitrary, not evidence-based. This arbitrary restriction deprives injured workers from access to their chosen method of treatment while also enhancing  corporate compensation

SB 626 will put a stop to this form of arbitary denial of access to care.

How about old fashioned prejudice against psychiatric disability?

Medical treatment for psychiatric injury has not been precluded by SB 863 although the significance of this level of injury has been diminished and downgraded by the perpetrators of SB 863. Here's how: SB 863 denies psychiatric-injured patients of indemnity benefits. The psychological harm derived from workplace injury is no longer included in the calculation of permanent disability payments.

SB 626 will make this unfair and ignorant preclusion null and void. Depression and other forms of psychiatric disability were given back-of-the-bus status by the perpetrators of SB 863.  SB 626 will put a stop to this arbitrary denial of reasonable permanent disability.

In future issues we'll discuss AB 670 (sponsored by the California Medical Association), opposition sought by the Union of American Physicians and Dentists to SBs 491, 492, and 493, and SB 809 (DeSaulnier) which would mandate that the Board of Pharmacy increase fees to wholesalers (the bill is known as CURES or Controlled Substances Utilization Review and Evaluation System).

As always, reader comments are welcome and anticipated.


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