Sunday, December 19, 2010, 12:27 PM - Medical treatment under WCThe California Division of Workers' Compensation has now unveiled another proposed feature of it's 12 point plan to help control medical costs. The latest proposal is a revision of inpatient hospital fees and a revision of hospital outpatient fees and ambulatory surgery center fees.
Hearings are now slated on these fee revisions for January 25, 2011 at 10am in the Elihu Harris State Building auditorium in Oakland. Public comments are being solicited on the regs til January 25th (they can be sent to Maureen Gray, regulations coordinator at the DWC, 1515 Clay Street, 18th Floor, Oakland CA 94612)
The DWC announcement claims that:
"Savings from these two proposals is expected to be $59 million the first year and $86 million per year thereafter. These savings may later be used in the process of updating the physician fee schedule."
As I've noted before, medical costs (and medical containment costs) are major cost drivers in the comp system. This is true nationally as well as in California.
In our system there is always a challenge to deliver quality care to injured workers at a reasonable cost. Ultimately, if medical costs rise too quickly then there is little room for increase in indemnity benefits for disabled workers.
The Schwarzenegger DWC regime is down to its' last few weeks. While there will undoubtedly be some holdovers, new leadership will be coming. That new team will ultimately craft a final version of these hospital & ambulatory surgery fee schedule regs.
And the new team will have to deal with a very contentious issue among doctors, a revision of the physician fee schedule.
According to the DWC:
"These regulatory proposals move the DWC closer to completing its 12-point plan to help contain medical costs. Four of the 12 points (tightening treatment guidelines, providing an option to keep medical care in a network, simplifying medical provider network rules and improving medical cost reporting) have been completed. A fifth point (implementing electronic billing) is very near completion.
With implementation of these two regulations, seven of the 12 points will be complete. DWC has also begun work on its plan to streamline utilization review processes and requests for medical authorization.
The final points of the plan, including updating the physician fee schedule, creating pharmacy networks and considering creation of a drug formulary, will be reviewed in the coming year."
You can access the proposed on the inpatient hospital fee schedule here:
http://www.dir.ca.gov/dwc/DWCPropRegs/I ... hedule.htm
The proposed regs on outpatient hospital and ambulatory surgical center
fees are found here:
http://www.dir.ca.gov/dwc/DWCPropRegs/A ... Center.htm
Stay tuned. Over the holiday season I will be doing a recap of the top 10 developments in California workers' comp in 2010 and a quiz on likely developments in 2011.
Monday, July 19, 2010, 10:45 PM - Medical treatment under WCFlash from the workerscompzone green eyeshades department, always seeking out future trends for your reading pressure,,,,er, pleasure.
30% of California doctors are over 60 years old. That's well above the national average.
Six out of nine California regions now have a primary care physician shortage. Only the Bay Area, Orange County and Sacramento meet primary care access standards.
Los Angeles, the Central Coast, the Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley and San Diego are among the regions underserved by primary care doctors.
As the population ages, this trend is likely to increase. Expanded coverage under the Obama healthcare reforms may exacerbate physician shortages.
Meanwhile, specialists are distributed unevenly among the various California metro areas.
The stats are all in a report of the California Healthcare Foundation in a study by Craig Paxton of Cattaneo and Stroud, a healthcare consulting firm. The study has many nifty graphs and charts, comparing physician access among many metro areas.
The study is found here:
http://www.chcf.org/~/media/Files/PDF/C ... es2010.pdf
Its a study that merits close analysis by workers' comp stakeholders.
Will tomorrow's workers' comp system be struggling to attract treating doctors? Should future regulatory and legislative fixes consider the effect on attracting doctors to comp? Should there be more organized attempts to train doctors for occupational medicine?
Thursday, July 15, 2010, 07:12 PM - Medical treatment under WCJuly 20.
That's the deadline for comment on the latest version of the California physician fee schedule. An earlier version of of a revised physician fee schedule has been modified.
The initial proposal was supposedly "budget neutral". With this new version, costs have been added into the system, supposedly funded from cuts in spinal hardware costs and cuts in ambulatory surgical center fees.
The initial proposal followed the release of a study by the The Lewin Group on introduction of RBRVS into the California workers' comp fee schedule.
The Lewin Group study can be found here:
http://www.dir.ca.gov/dwc/RBRVSLewinRep ... rt2010.pdf
Many physicians were highly critical of the first proposed fee revision.
The DWC walks a fine line here. There is enormous pressure to find system cost savings. Medical costs have been increasing significantly (along with loss control costs). Unless medical costs are under control, it's hard to see how indemnity benefits will be brought to adequate levels.
But there needs to also be attention to keeping doctors in the system.
My recent post, "To Treat of Not to Treat", examined this from the perspective of some of the doctors. The question raised was whether it was worth it for doctors to take workers' comp cases:
http://www.workerscompzone.com/index.ph ... 707-091110
The comment forum on the revision to the fee schedule is open til July 20th:
http://www.dir.ca.gov/dwc/DWCWCABForum/ ... hedule.htm
Here is a link to the comments posted so far (note: the DWC often takes down these links after the comment period expires):
http://www.dir.ca.gov/dwc/ForumDocs/Phy ... mments.pdf
Among the comments so far, comments from neurologists and physical medicine doctors are particularly notable. The commenting doctors note that reimbursements for diagnostic procedures such as EMG/NCV testing would be substantially reduced. This would lead to an exodus of neurologists from the comp system, they predict.
As reimbursement schedules are adjusted, someone's ox is likely to get gored. But these changes can substantially affect worker access to treatment.
That's why it's good for doctors to give their input now, up front.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010, 09:11 AM - Medical treatment under WCAs a blogger on California workers' comp issues, I sometimes get interesting calls.
Yesterday's call? From doctor's group (to protect confidentiality, I'll mask any particularizing details).
The medical practice is debating whether to join an MPN and whether it wants to treat injured workers under California's workers' comp system.
The caller was seeking input from sources with knowledge about California's workers' comp system.
At first, I envisioned a need to educate the caller about issues that concern providers....utilization review....fee schedule issues....medical treatment guidelines.....lien claims.......
I quickly realized that was unnecessary. The caller already understood what was going on in those areas quite well.
The caller was really looking for something else. What's the benefit in treating workers' comp cases? Why should our doctors do it?
This physician noted that the medical group was already very busy with non-workers' comp patients. The group was a member of various HMO
Why should they take workers' comp? Was it worth getting involved in the hassles of paperwork documentation and authorization disputes?
I wondered whether their HMO contracts bound them to treat injured workers. The caller didn't think so.
I noted that with changes coming under Obamacare, healthcare reforms could affect treaters in unanticipated ways. Perhaps the doctor group wanted to diversify into workers' comp.
The caller was unmoved.
Did the doctors feel a sense of civic duty to treat some share of the state's working folks? After all, many of the doctors live in the community. The workers they would be treating serve the doctors in various capacities. I appealed to the communitarian, altruistic impulses of the caller.
The caller was unimpressed.
I tried an economic argument. Perhaps, I noted (not having stats to back up my hypothesis) if the doctors did not take comp cases, would that have a negative effect on the economics of local MRI facilities and surgicenters which may be partially owned by these doctors? Would other treating doctors refer patients to alternative surgicenters and MRI centers instead, negatively affecting the calling doctors' investments?
The caller noted that this argument could resonate with some of his partners, but might not be compelling.
As the call ended, I wondered how often this debate goes on in partnership meetings at doctors groups. Was the call just an "outlier", or was it a mainstream wake-up call showing deep dissatisfaction among doctor groups with practice in the comp system?
Thursday, June 24, 2010, 09:40 AM - Medical treatment under WCIn these challenging economic times, you'd think that policymakers would want to keep as many jobs here in California as possible.
Good, skilled jobs. Like jobs for physician UR reviewers.
But currently utilization review docs don't have to be California licensed.
In 2008 Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed an attempt to impose a California license requirement on UR reviewers. That bill, carried by now termed-out Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, was AB 2969.
AB 933, carried by Assemblyman Paul Fong of Cupertino, would require UR reviewers to be licensed. Here's a link to the current bill language:
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bil ... en_v98.pdf
One advantage of requiring California licensing for UR docs is that it will cut down on the problem of treating docs having trouble contacting UR because of time zone issues. Currently a California treating doctor who is in surgery in the morning has almost zero chance of speaking to a UR reviewer in Florida who is gone by the time the Cali treating doctor gets back in the office from the surgicenter.
These are the sort of little realities that frustrate doctors. Many end up in the costly and time consuming QME process.
There's a good chance the Governor will veto AB 933 if it reaches his desk. The bill advanced out of Senate committee yesterday, but still faces an uncertain future.
With all the concern about generating California jobs and revenue for California, it's hard to defend allowing out of state doctors to do California utilization review.
It's time to keep the jobs here.