Saturday, December 27, 2014

Utilizaton Review (UR) and Independent Medical Review (IMR)

Of these two programs the more perfidious one is Independent Medical Review (IMR) into which the legislature carelessly linked secrecy and finality of decision making. 

The IMR decision is supposedly a final medical decision no matter how incorrect and  harmful that decision may be. It cannot be appealed to WCAB since that otherwise constitutional pathway has been precluded by SB 863. The idea in this situation is that doctors, not lawyers or judges, should make medical decisions. The concept sounds good in theory. Nonetheless, the legislature felt it necessary to protect the IMR doctors from outside scrutiny by keeping IMR doctors' names secret just as in France in the days of the Bastille when secret letters enabled throwing French citizens, including nobility, into prison without trial.

IMR is justly under fire at this time. On 12/03/14 the California Court of Appeal First Appellate District, Division One, granted the petition for writ of review filed by Attorney Joseph Waxman in the case of Frances Stevens, Petitioner, v. WCAB and Outspoken Enterprises/State Compensation Insurance Fund (ADJ 1526353). In a workcompcentral report from 12/18/14 we're told that Stevens had been found 100% disabled. Stevens needed a high level of assistance even for ordinary activities of daily living including personal hygiene. State Comp (SCIF) submitted the request to Utilization Review (UR) which denied the requested home health aide and four medications. An IMR review request was submitted. After a lengthy delay, seven months, actually, Maximus upheld the UR denial. That is when an appeal was filed with the Workers Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB). Part of the legal appeal revolves about jurisdiction, i.e., the constitutionality of Labor Codes 4610.5 and 4610.6. This writer understands IMR is governed in part by LC 4610.6 (h) which says WCAB can only set Maximus IMR decisions aside on what workcompcentral's piece called "very limited grounds" such as fraud, material conflict of interest, racial bias, and other matters such as ethnic or sexual orientation.

Under these circumstances, that a UR decision might have been flat-out wrong, stupid, and harmful, and that IMR approval might also have been wrong, stupid, and harmful, simply doesn't matter under the law. Welcome to "1984" in medical-legal jurisprudence.

Organizations with a stake or interest in the outcome should file amicus briefs as soon as possible, especially medical organizations that purport to have patients' interests at heart.

References (some items listed more than once under separate headings when more than one site used the editorial and if one of the sites is not readily accessible) 

From Workcompcentral:

1) "Malpractice by Utilization Review," 12/19/14;

2) "Utilization Review: Hypocrisy in Velvet Gloves," 3/16/14;

3) "Stevens Writ Granted," 12/18/14;

4) "Applicants' Attorneys Pan DWC's Rosy View of Independent Medical Review," 12/19/14;

5) "Maximus Upheld Denial of Treatment Four-Fifths of the Time," 12/10/14.

From California Applicants Attorneys' Association:

1) Under Eclips Daily News, 12/19/14, "Malpractice by Utilization Review."


1)  "Is SB 863 an Example of Legislative Malpractice?, " 12/22,14;

2)  "Malpractice by Utilization Review, " 12/13/14;

3)  "Is Utilization Review in the Cards for 2015?, " 12/01/14;

4)  "How Utilization Review and Independent Medical Review ... Deprive Injured Workers," 8/11/14;

5) "Utilization Review: Hypocrisy in Velvet Gloves," 3/18/14.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Is SB 863 an Example of Legislative Malpractice?

In our previous op-ed we discussed malpractice by Utilization Review doctors, namely, which ones were eligible for discipline from the Medical Board of California (MBC) and which ones were able to skedaddle from underneath this potentially onerous obligation. In a nutshell, UR doctors not licensed in California are allowed substantially more leeway than their properly licensed counterparts -- they can deny, modify, or approve care to California's injured workers without being subject to sanctions for unprofessional conduct from the MBC when their incorrect decisions are harmful to injured workers. 

We then discussed  the special relief that's granted to Independent Medical Review (IMR)  doctors such as those used by Maximus. While many of these IMR doctors may be licensed in California, many are not. Physicians do not need to be licensed in California to do IMR thanks to SB 863 which grants at least two levels of protection to this favored class. First, the IMR doctor does not have to be licensed in California. Second, the IMR doctor gets to be anonymous, not unlike the situation in pre-revolutionary France where nobles were allowed to file secret complaints called "lettres de cachet" -- these accusations put hapless defendants into prison. The unlucky defendant was not told the name of his accuser. 

Our editorial entitled "Malpractice by Utilization Review?" has been reprinted on other websites, e.g.,  workcompcentral, California Neurology Society, and has come to the attention of the California Applicants' Attorneys Association (CAAA).  We call your attention to comments that have been submitted to workcompcentral, in particular, one from an orthopedic patient who said "I too am thinking about going to the CA medical board on a UR doctor."

This patient said he was made to "suffer for close to 5 weeks with the headaches that comes with spinal fluid leaks." These situations point out why SB 863 needs to be substantially modified or repealed.

Physicians know that utilization review occurs in diverse forms and isn't limited to workers comp or injured workers -- it's used for managed care of all kinds and for Medicare and Medicaid.

It appears that SB 863 has provided a safe-haven for malpractice protection for UR doctors and their 80% supportive IMR colleagues. It appears that one can argue with reasonable medical probability that SB 863 itself reflects legislative malpractice and has earned the right to be repealed. 

Interested parties are referred to additional specific references (see  below):

"Applicants' Attorneys Pan DWC's Rosy View of Independent Medical Review," by Greg Jones, Workcompcentral, 12/19/14;

"Maximus Upheld Denial of Treatment Four-Fifths of the Time," by Greg Jones, Workcompcentral, 12/16/14;

"Labor's Comp Expert Stepped on Toes to Make Reform," Workcompcentral, 12/10/14;

"Continuing Hope for Reinstatement of the Lien Activation Fee," Melissa LeBlanc, Workcompcental, 12/22/14.

Saturday, December 13, 2014



Here's the story we're working on right now: a Utilization Review physician with a California license is being challenged for a decision that is reported to have resulted in harm to a patient. As we go to press, here's what we know: 

1) Patient X sustained brain and spinal cord injury in 2001;
2) Patient X had a three-level cervical fusion;
3) Patient X had been on lyrica since 2008; 
4) Patient X reported relief of symptoms;
5) Patient X did not report adverse effects;
6) UR Doctor Y was referred the case for review;
7) As is the custom in these cases, UR Doctor Y did not interview or examine the patient since so doing is not required by California law covering utilization review;
8) As is the custom in these cases, UR Doctor Y reviewed the documents forwarded by the insurance company, three medical reports that purportedly covered the injured worker's 12-year medical and surgical history;
9) At this point one of the allegations against the UR doctor that could also be directed against the insurance company is that a paucity of medical records was reviewed by the doctor and/or submitted by the insurance company;
10) UR Doctor Y submitted a report advising that the dosage of lyrica which had been prescribed for about 6 years be cut in half;
11) This recommended reduction in medication was accepted by the insurance company which then reportedly declined to authorize the next request for medication refill (we do not know at this time if the actual primary treating physician or PTP agreed, acquiesced,  or rewrote the prescription in accordance with the UR recommendation). We also do not know if the PTP filed an appeal;
12) Patient X did poorly with  the reduced medication and experienced adverse effects;
13) In due course, a California licensed physician got the original dosage restored;
14) Patient X sustained adverse effects that were short-lived and reversed once the original dosage was restored;
15) Patient X now has a lawyer who has instituted proceedings to report UR Doctor Y to the Medical Board of California and to initiate a malpractice complaint. 

In summary, although we believe we know more, the facts as stated above can safely be stated with reasonable medical probability.  In previous op-eds, see also my reprints in workcompcentral,  we've pointed out that Dr. Frantozzi as president of the MBC submitted a letter stating that UR was part of the practice of medicine and required a California medical license -- in this case, the offending UR doctor does in fact have a California medical license which is why the MBC retains jurisdiction in this case. In other cases where the UR doctor does not have a California medical license, there would be no sense in even submitting this complaint to the MBC. Malpractice litigation would be the only choice. In this case, it appears that both options are open. We'll follow up when we know more, Stay tuned. 

MORE, A LITTLE MORE, IS HEREWITH REPORTED: repeal of SB 863 is indicated. 

If you stayed tuned as requested, here's the next bits of information we've gleaned about this patient's plight. The PTP in this case reportedly filed an updated RFA which dutifully got referred back to Utilization Review. A different UR doctor than the one who nixed the original prescription then opined in favor of the original lyrica prescription. The medication was then re-authorized. We're also advised that the Medical Board has now been advised about this case and has been asked to comment on it.  This method of medical practice owes its existence to SB 863. The solution is repeal of SB 863.  Stay tuned, this fight has just begun. 


"Medical Board Asserts Jurisdiction Over Utilization Review,", by Greg Jones, 2013-06-12;

"Utilization Review Hypocrisy in Velvet Gloves,", by Robert Weinmann, MD, 2014-03-26;

"Is Utilization Review in the Cards for 2015?", by Robert Weinmann, MD, 2014-12-03.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

PROPOSITION 45 MAY RIDE AGAIN (Regulating Insurance Companies That Sell Healthcare Policies)

Like a reliable bucking bronco used to rodeo participation, Proposition 45 may be down, not out, and capable of rising again if supportive organizations adopt it, revise it, and promote it. 

Among the physicians who were supportive of Prop. 45  we can probably still count on Paul Song and Robyn Young to maintain interest and put up a fight. Doctor Song is reported to have an eye on running for insurance commissioner once Dave Jones has finished his tenure. Young is president of the California Neurology Society and maintains hands-on interest in  medical- political issues in Sacramento and Washington, DC.

What killed Proposition 45 in the November, 2014 voting in California was the widespread perception that regulation of the insurance companies was largely smoke and mirrors. The idea was to allow the insurance commissioner as much authority over the sellers of healthcare insurance as is now allowed with reference to automobile liability insurance.

That meant that the insurance commissioner would be enabled to role back an insurance company's increase in premium it it were judged by the insurance commissioner to be arbitrary, not substantiated by demonstrable need. The insurance commissioner would be judge and jury. 

Careful readers of the proposition quickly realized that what was deemed "arbitrary" might itself be arbitrary and that insurance commissioners might yield to political persuasion. The insurance companies countered with an ad that said doctors, not politicians, should decide medical matters. The obvious riposte was that insurance companies currently readily find ways to deny authorization of care, restricting access to diagnostic studies, specialists, and expensive procedures, sometimes even medicines. The proponents of 45 were caught flat-footed, or when not flat-footed, too penurious to afford proper rebuttal ads. 

The Californnia Medical Association and the Union of American Physicians and Dentists found common ground in opposing 45 -- they agreed that a likely scenario for an insurance company whose increased premium got rebuked would simply be to reduce remuneration to providers such as hospitals, clinics, and physicians. That being so, they opted to oppose the proposition since its obvious effect would be to reduce access to care. The likely next step would be for MPNs (Medical Provider Networks) to fire physicians as fast as possible -- the longer the waiting line for access to care, the lower monthly expenses would be, the higher profits and executive compensation would be,  never mind that overall serious illness would go up. The obvious fly-trap was "insurance  for everybody, medical care for nobody"

As a result these and other medical organizations opposed the proposition even though in their collective guts they may have favored the concept.  Prop. 45 did not cover providers or provider groups because it did not give the insurance commissioner authority to regulate provider reimbursement by the insurance companies.

Now it's up to the proponents to write a proper legislative bill that takes these concepts into account and puts them into legislative language in time for the 2015 legislative session. Since there's a long history on this concept, AB 52 from previous failed legislation, and now Prop. 45 itself, it should be possible to construct a new bill that will tie up these loose ends. The next step will be to get a legislative author and to be available as an articulate sponsor at committee hearings and the like. 

Indeed, since the concept already has traction, my advice is to seek out an appropriate legislator to carry the bill with the understanding  that when he looks over his shoulder he'll see troops in support, not defectors fleeing the political scene. 

Monday, December 1, 2014


Utilization Review (UR) is the process in Workers Comp whereby outside physicians decide whether or not to authorize care prescribed by a PTP (Primary Treating Physician) or consultant called upon by the PTP to advise about the next diagnostic or therapeutic steps that should be taken for an industrial patient or injured worker. Under current California law the UR physician does not have to be licensed to practice medicine in California -- any state license suffices. Proponents of the current system argue in support of the position that where a physician is licensed is beside the point and should not be made an issue. What matters, they say, is that he is knowledgeable in the specialty in which he opines and on this basis should be allowed to approve or disallow authorization for treatment based on accepted peer review guidelines. Opponents point out that the UR physician is actually practicing medicine and should be just as responsible to the state medical board as the PTP.

Opponents assert that some insurance companies go out of there way to find physicians who are more likely than others to be nay-sayers who deny more diagnostic services and treatment than their colleagues. California's state medical board has recognized this awkward situation and is on record saying that UR is part of the practice of medicine and that UR physicians on California cases should be licensed in this state. This writer agrees, but it will take fresh legislation to get this change into law. In fact, three times such legislation actually cleared the California legislature, and three times it was vetoed, twice by Gov. Schwarzenegger, once by Gov. Brown, at the heavy handed persuasion of the insurance lobby. However, the tax circumstances that applied then no longer apply, reason enough to try again and give Gov. Brown a chance to redeem himself.

This topic has previously been discussed in these pages, e.g., "Utilization Review: Hypocrisy in Velvet Gloves," and reprinted in toto in workcompcentral, 2014-03-26.

See also for reference "How to practice medicine without a license," San Francisco Chronicle, 8/29/08.

Willful or wrongful denial of care may constitute "unprofessional conduct." If a doctor with a California license willfully or wrongfully denies care, that doctor may be asked to appear before the state medical board for "unprofessional conduct." No such threat awaits the non-California licensed physician. The non-California licensed physician may not be hauled before his own state board, either -- that board would not have jurisdiction in a California case. As matters stand now, the doctors whose decisions invariably favor cost-cutting by denying care need not worry about professional discipline for wrongful denials of care. This situation begs to be changed. It'll require legislation akin to Texas law which requires doctors who do UR in Texas to be licensed in Texas.

At the moment, doctors licensed in California cannot do UR on Texas patients without first getting licensed in Texas. By contrast, Texas doctors who aren't licensed in California may deny authorization for diagnostic studies or treatment ordered by doctors licensed in California who are trying to take care of patients injured in California. The California doctor ends up carrying the proverbial malpractice bag through no fault of his own. The non-California doctor who actually denied the diagnostic study or treatment skedaddles away paid and unscathed.

One major lobbyist told me he's all for revising Utilization Review law but would need to be assured that the Governor would not veto it this time. As anyone knows who has dealt with Gov. Brown, we do not offer guarantees on what he'll do or won't do. Our job is to persuade.

UR in California is often buttressed by a yes-man mentality from IMR physicians, that is, from Independent Medical Review doctors who also don't need to be licensed in California and, who, to make matters worse, are actually protected by anonymity endowed by recently passed California legislation which also cries out for adjustment, better yet, outright repeal (we refer here to SB 863, DeLeon). The Medical Board of California (under then President Richard Fanozzi, MD) stated in a letter dated 8/25/08 that the MBC supported legislation that "would require a physician who is conducting utilization review to be licensed in California " because that "would provide increased consumer protection over decisions that do not have patients as its primary concern."

Instead, what has happened with IMR is that "consumer protections over decisions that do not have patients as its primary concern" has been weakened.

Organizations that have previously expressed concern with current standards re UR include the California Society of Industrial Medicine and Surgery (CSIMS), California Physical Medicine and Rehab (CPM&R), California Medical Association (CMA), California Applicants' Attorneys Association (CAAA), Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD), Voters Injured at Work (VIAW), LatinoComp, and California Neurology Society (CNS).

We're now obliged to wait to see which one takes the lead on UR and IMR reform in the 2015 legislative year. Our recommendation is that it be a consortium that pools its resources.