Rules Are Meant to be Broken – or At Least Updated. 2019 Rule Updates

2019 brings changes to two Rules that affect Colorado Workers’ Compensation. Rule 11 and Rule 16 have both been revised and the changes go into effect January 1, 2019. The changes to Rule 11and the DIME process are extensive. Below is a brief summary of the changes.

 

Rule 16 is undergoing a few changes.  The rule has been reordered.  Most of the changes are not substantive.  It is strongly recommended that the new rule be referenced in dealing with any prior authorization or billing issue for specifics.  The more substantive changes are highlighted below; however, the specifics of the rule should be reviewed in each situation.

  • ‘Payer’ definition is the same, but the definition now states that use of third parties to pay bills does not relieve the carrier or self-insured employer of obligations under the rules.
  • Recognized healthcare providers previously under 16-5 is now under 16-3.
  • Required use of the medical treatment guidelines, previously under 16-3 is now under 16-4
  • Notification requirements previously under 16-9 is now under 16-5.
  • Prior authorization previously under 16-10 is now under 16-6
  • Contest of prior authorization previously under 16-11 is now under 16-7.

* In conjunction with 16-11 in the new rule governing payment of medical benefits, contest for payment of prior authorization for non-medical reasons now contains examples of non-medical reasons including: no claim has been filed, compensability is not been established, the provider is not authorized, insurance coverage is at issue, typographic, gender or date errors on the bill, failure to submit medical documentation and unrecognized CPT codes.

  • Required use of the medical fee schedule previously under 16-4 is now under 16-8 and specifically sets forth the payment for build services without an established value under the medical fee schedule require prior authorization.
  • Required billing forms and accompanying documentation previously under 16-7 is now under 16-9 and has been added to somewhat.
  • Required medical documentation previously under 16-8 is now under 16-10 and sets forth in greater detail specifically what Form 164 should look like from the doctor’s office.
  • Payment of medical benefits previously under 16-12 is now under16-11.
  • Dispute resolution process previously under 16-13 is now under 16-12.
  • On-site review of hospital or other medical charges previously under 16-14 is folded into 16-10 regarding required medical record documentation.

 

Rule 11 changes are more substantial. Of Counsel, Brad Hansen, wrote an article about the updates last month and you can read it as well: Because It Goes to 11 – Rule 11 changes for 2019. 

 

The following is a brief summary of the Rule 11 changes:

Why?

  • No real change for years.
  • Doctors’ reluctance to continue to do DIMEs due to reimbursement and increased complexity.

 

Effective Date

  • January 1, 2019
  • DOWC says there is some leeway for the first month.

 

Overview of changes

  • Cost
  • Forms
  • Time-frames
  • Logistics

 

Cost

  • 3 tiers based on DOI, and number of body parts
  • $1,000 = DOI < 2 years and < 3 regions marked on the application
  • $1,400 = DOI > 2 years but < 5 years and 3 – 4 body regions marked
  • $2,000 = DOI > 5 years and ≥ 5 or more body regions marked

 

Forms

  • FAL – includes objection to the FAL, notice proposal and application for DIME
  • Request for Appointment to the DIME
  • Notice and Proposal and Application for DIME
  • DIME Examiner Summary Sheet
  • Notice of DIME Negotiations
  • Follow-up DIME
  • DIME Physician Summary Disclosure Form
  • Notice of Reschedule or Termination of DIME
  • Notice of Agreement to Limit the Scope of the DIME
  • DIME Report Template

 

Time-frames – font color corresponds to responsible party. Key to color below list.

  • FAL = 30 Days After Receipt of MMI (calendar 30 days after report for safety)
  • Notice and Proposal and Application for DIME = 30 Days After Filing of FAL
  • Claimant Files for Indigency = 15 Days After Filing the Notice and Proposal and Application for DIME
  • Attempt to Negotiate DIME = 30 Days After Notice and Proposal and Application (Notice of Negotiation Form to be filed within 30 Days)
  • DOWC Issues Panel = 5 days
  • Summary Disclosure Request = 5 Business Days
  • Requesting Party Strike If No Disclosure Request = 5 Business Days
  • Non-Requesting Party Strike = 5 Business Days
  • DOWC Send DIME Confirmation = 5 Business Days
  • Pay For and Schedule DIME = 14 Days
  • Schedule DIME = Between 35 – 75 Days After DIME Confirmation
  • Complete Copy of Medical Records to Claimant = 14 Days from DIME Confirmation
  • Claimant submits additional Medical Records to Carrier = 10 Days After Medical Packet From Carrier
  • Completed Packet Provided to DIME = 14 Days Before Exam
  • Claimant Notifies Carrier of Need for Interpreter = 14 Days Before Examination
    • Carrier is Responsible for Paying for the Interpreter
  • After DIME = 20 Days After Examination a Report is Generated

Key = Respondent duty       = Claimant duty     = Either Party’s duty

 

Logistics

  • New Rule applies to any Notice and Proposal with a certificate of service after 1/1/19
  • Applies to any follow-up DIME after 1/1/19
  • Applies to 24-month DIMEs

 

Questions

  • Body Parts?
    • The checklist proports to control body parts considered
    • PALJs likely to address
    • DIMEs still not confined to specific body parts
  • DIME Cancellation
    • Very tight cancellation time-frames with fixed penalties

 

The above summaries of Rule 11 and 16 are not intended to be used as legal advice. They are an outline of the changes to those Rules effective January 1, 2019. Please contact an attorney at Lee & Brown for case specific legal recommendations.

BECAUSE IT GOES TO 11

It is hard to believe that the holiday season is here and, with that, 2019 will soon be upon us. 2019 Rule 11 revisionsWith the New Year, several changes and updates to the Workers’ Compensation Rules of Procedure will take place. One rule that will have significant changes and impact on the system is Rule 11, which pertains to the DIME process.

The DIME program has seen little change since its inception in 1991, yet it is an essential piece of the Colorado Workers’ Compensation system. There have been attempts throughout the years to change the procedures from both respondent’s and claimant’s bars but to no avail. After three years of collaboration and tedious consideration, the Division of Workers’ Compensation has finally adopted a new rule that will address key challenges of each stakeholder. This is due in part to weekly staff meetings with representatives from both sides of the bar commenting on the changes and individual meetings with each side of the bar. There were over 50 revisions to Rule 11 and a Public Rule Hearing held for additional comment.

 

Effective January 1, 2019, these revisions and changes to Rule 11 will take place. Several key changes to the Rule:

     

    • There will now be a three-tiered payment system based on the date of injury to the filing of the DIME application and the number of body regions indicated on the DIME application;
    •  
    • The DIME physician must receive the fee prior to the requesting party scheduling the DIME appointment;
    •  
    • The Notice and Proposal and DIME Application are now combined as one document;
    •  
    • The time-frame to schedule a DIME appointment is extended to no earlier than 45 days or later than 75 days after the requesting party receives the notice of the DIME Physician Confirmation; and
    •  
    • Parties will now be responsible for agreeing on a singular medical records packet to send to the DIME physician.

     

 

The Division Rule will go into place January 1st, but the Division has indicated there will be some leniency the first month to sort out compliance issues. By February the Division will be enforcing the new process. Any Notice and Proposal with a certificate of mailing dated on or after January 1, 2019 is subject to the new Rule 11 provisions.

 

One provision of the Rule that will be advantageous for respondents is the requirement that once a Notice and Proposal is filed, claimant must simultaneously file a DIME application. With the current Rule 11 provision, claimant could file a Notice and Proposal to perfect their jurisdictional requirement to object to the Final Admission of Liability but could wait on filing for a DIME. Sometimes it would be months, or even close to a year, before a DIME application was filed and physician selected. Hopefully, the new Rule 11 revisions will bring a speedier DIME process and claim resolution/closure.

 

One negative effect of the new Rule is that parties are now to agree on one set of medical records to be sent to the DIME physician. This could create more litigation as claimants may not want to provide certain records, but respondents may feel they should be included in the medical packet. A standoff could require pre-hearings to adjudicate the matter. This is likely why the Division extended the time requirement to 45 – 75 days so that parties have time to reach an agreement on the medical records submitted and additional time to set the DIME appointment.

 

With these changes to Rule 11, there will be a lot of questions that need to be addressed. The attorneys at Lee & Brown, LLC are here to answer any questions you may have regarding the new changes to Rule 11 and will be conducting training seminars “on our DIME” early next year to go over all these changes. Below are some helpful links from the Division of Workers’ Compensation which provides general DIME information and new timelines to consider.

 

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/DIME_Presentation_2019.pdf

 

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/Important_DIME_Timelines_2019.pdf

 

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/General_DIME_Fee_Information.pdf

 

 

The Legal Buzz – Lee & Brown Newsletter and Case Law Update October 2018

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In The News

Members Joshua Brown and John Abraham, along with Office Manager Denise Iannotti, represented Lee & Brown at the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms’ (NAMWOLF) Annual Conference held in Chicago September 25-29th. A member since 2013, Lee & Brown is proud to be a part of this outstanding organization and assist in its efforts to promote diversity through the creation of legal opportunity for minority and women owned law firms.

The Firm was very recognized throughout the conference thanks to their ability to “clone” Members Brown and Abraham as life-size cardboard cutouts, which were utilized in the implementation of their well-received game of “Finding Josh and John”. Fellow NAMWOLF Member Krishna Reddy, Esq. of Paul Garcia & Associates in San Antonio, Texas was the very happy winner of an Apple Watch as a result of his savvy game playing skills.

Everyone is now preparing for the next NAMWOLF event – the annual Business Meeting, to be held in New Orleans in February 2019.

 


Noteworthy Cases

Joshua Brown Attorney DenverMember Joshua Brown and Associate Kristi Robarge  successfully defended a full contest claim in Kelson v. SkyWest Airlines, Inc., W.C. 5-061-588. Claimant, a flight attendant, was traveling to her hotel on a shuttle bus when the bus stopped suddenly to avoid a collision. Claimant alleged an injury to her left shoulder from bracing against the seat in front of her. However, Claimant did not report the alleged injury until one month later when she had an unrelated stroke and ended up in the hospital. From the date of the alleged injury until Claimant’s unrelated stroke, she continued to work full duty. Respondents’ expert testified that it was not medically probable that the left shoulder injury was causally related to the shuttle bus incident. The ALJ found Respondents’ expert more credible and persuasive than Claimant and denied and dismissed her claim for compensation.

 

John Abraham Denver AttorneyMember John Abraham and Associate Jessie M. Tasselmyer successfully defended against Claimant’s request for ongoing maintenance medical care in Riccillo v. Parkview Medical Center. Claimant suffered a slip and fall accident in 1996. Claimant underwent extensive treatment and was ultimately placed at MMI. Thereafter, the indemnity portion of her case was settled, except for maintenance medical care. Claimant continued to treat and receive medications. Respondents retained an expert to opine on Claimant’s ongoing maintenance medical care. Respondents’ expert testified at hearing that Claimant suffered from a somatic pain disorder as well as pre-existing depression and anxiety. He further testified that even though Claimant’s ongoing depression and anxiety may have been related to the industrial injury in the past, it was no longer probable that her continued complaints of depression and anxiety were related to the industrial injury approximately 22 years later. The ALJ found Respondents’ expert more credible and persuasive than Claimant and denied and dismissed her claim for compensation.

 

Of Counsel Sheila Toborg and Associate Jessie M. Tasselmyer successfully defended against Claimant’s attempt to overcome a DIME in Thompson v. The Home Depot. Claimant alleged that the DIME failed to address her psycho-social issues impacting her physical condition. Claimant also alleged that her physical abilities at the time of the DIME were inaccurate due to the performance of a steroid injection prior to the exam. Respondents’ expert credibly testified that the findings of the DIME were appropriate, and that Claimant’s ongoing complaints were unrelated to the work injury. The ALJ relied on testimony of Respondents’ IME physician and the DIME report, stating that the report addressed all of Claimant’s complaints and conditions and that there was no convincing evidence that the DIME’s determination of MMI was invalid.

 

Of Counsel M. Frances McCracken, successfully defended a full contest claim in Garza v. Walmart Associates. Inc. dba Sam’s Wholesale Club. Claimant alleged he injured his back when he slipped on water at work. Claimant denied falling but stated he “significantly wind-milled his arms in a Charlie Chaplin like manner” to maintain his balance and felt a twinge in his back. Security video did not show Claimant wind-milled or cartwheeled his arms. It showed he walked, slipped, bent slightly forward, and did not spill any liquid from the cup he was carrying. Ms. McCracken elicited credible witness testimony that Claimant stated he worked on a 40-acre ranch and lifted 80-pound hay bales after the incident. Respondents’ expert testified there was no mechanism of injury that would cause Claimant’s complaints. The claim was denied and dismissed.

 

    Associate Dan Mowrey defended a compensability claim in Nunez v. Custom AG Pak, LLC before the Industrial Commission of Arizona. The Applicant asserted he injured his back and neck at work on December 1, 2017. He testified reporting the injury to “a younger gentleman in human resources”, who told him to rest. The Applicant stated he rested the remainder of his shift and went home. He sought medical treatment the next day in Mexico. He did not return to work for the employer. At the hearing, the Applicant’s brother testified Claimant injured his right shoulder; however, Applicant did not present a medical professional to show a connection between the alleged workplace exposure and injury in advance of the hearing as required by the Rules of Procedure before the Industrial Commission, A.A.C. R20-5-141. Applicant further did not file any medical records or other documentation. Therefore, the ALJ found that Applicant did not provide sufficient evidence to support his claim and ordered it dismissed.

 

 


John Abraham Of Counsel

Recovery of Overpayments in Workers’ Compensation Claims

The issue of overpayments has drawn much attention in recent years. Several claims have gone up to the appellate courts regarding the jurisdiction and ability of the Division and an ALJ to order repayment of workers’ compensation benefits that were previously paid. As you may imagine, repayment of several thousand dollars by a claimant is usually very difficult, if not impossible. Employers and carriers usually protect themselves and recoup overpayment from future benefits owed. Several cases have emerged (as well as arguments from claimants) that recovery of overpayments is impermissible, unconstitutional, and burdensome. Continue reading the article.
 

Cases You Should Know

Death is Guaranteed but WC Benefits are Not: In Becirovic v. ICAO, 17CA1505 (August 16, 2018)(nfsp), Claimant passed away on November 19, 2013, before a hearing could be held on the issue of compensability in her workers’ compensation claim. On March 23, 2015, Dr. Hall sent Claimant’s attorney a letter opining Claimant’s work injury may have contributed to her death. Claimant filed a Dependent’s Notice of Claim on December 9, 2015. Respondents filed a Notice of Contest contending the claim was barred by the statute of limitations because it was filed more than two years after Claimant’s death pursuant to C.R.S. § 8-43-103(2). The ALJ dismissed the case as barred by the statute of limitations. Claimant appealed and asserted the statute of limitations should not have begun to run until he received Dr. Hall’s report at which time the nature and probable compensable nature of the injury was first recognized, City of Boulder v. Payne, 426 P.2d 194 (1967). However, the ALJ found Claimant had the medical records and information that were sent to Dr. Hall and provided no explanation as to why she waited more than a year after the death to obtain a medical opinion or to timely file a claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed the ALJ’s dismissal.

 

Moral of the Story: Comply with procedural and jurisdictional requirements because failure to do so may bar claims indefinitely.

 
 

ATP Trumps DIME Regarding Medical Treatment: Respondents sought to overcome a DIME finding that Claimant was not at MMI. The ALJ determined Respondents failed to overcome the DIME and ordered them to pay for the EMG and surgical consultation recommended by the DIME physician. Respondents appealed. The Panel found Respondents did not overcome the DIME, but it held the ALJ was without authority to order Respondents to pay for the surgical consultation. An ALJ may order payment for diagnostic testing because it serves an evidentiary purpose to determine MMI and impairment; however, surgical consultations constitute a medical benefit, which must be recommended by an ATP. Potter v. Grounds Service Company and Truck Insurance Exchange, W.C. No. 4-935-523 (August 2018).

 

Moral of the Story: A DIME is not an authorized provider and an ALJ does not have the authority to direct Respondents to pay for treatment recommended only by the DIME where there is no support from an authorized provider within the chain of referrals.

 
 

What a Relief: In Rajabi v. Arvada Fire Protection District, W.C. No. 5-044-870-01 (February 22, 2018), Claimant sought review of the ALJ’s Order denying Claimant’s request for “assistance with general home services and activities, including yard services…” The ALJ ruled that Claimant’s request for home and yard services “would not cure and relieve the symptoms and effects of the Claimant’s industrial injury” and that the “services were not incidental to medical treatment…” to relieve Claimant’s symptoms. The ALJ relied on the opinions of Respondents’ IME physician in rendering her decision. ICAO affirmed the credibility decisions of the ALJ and reasoned that the ALJ credited the testimony of Respondents’ IME physician more than the testimony of Claimant and her expert.

 

Moral of the Story: Medical treatment, including home health care, must be related to the industrial injury to cure and / or relieve symptoms of the industrial injury.

 
 

What a Relief, Part 2: In Rajabi v. Arvada Fire Protection District, W.C. No. 5-044-870-01 (February 22, 2018), Claimant appealed and argued that the ALJ erred in permitting the testimony of Respondents’ IME physician and the IME report due to failure to timely disclose the report. Respondents admitted that Respondents’ IME report was exchanged beyond the 20-day time period prescribed in Rule 9-1. ICAO ruled that the ALJ properly admitted the testimony and report of Respondents’ IME physician. ICAO reasoned that the IME report was properly admitted through the testimony of the IME physician. Furthermore, ICAO reasoned Claimant failed to exercise procedural safeguards prior to hearing. Specifically, Claimant did not request the report prior to hearing, had knowledge of the IME physicians’ testimony through Respondents’ interrogatories, and had an opportunity to cross-examine Respondents’ IME physician. The ALJ’s Order was affirmed.

 

Moral of the Story: Evidence, including anticipated testimony disclosed 21 or more days after hearing, may be precluded if the opposing party is not provided an opportunity to contest the late disclosure of evidence.

 
 

Lost Time, No DIME?: In Gibson v. Atlantic Relocation Services, W.C. NO. 5-020-939-01, ICAO affirmed the ALJ’s denial of Respondents’ request to strike the DIME. ICAO reasoned that the decision in Harman-Bergstedt v. Loofbourrow, 320 P.3d 327 (Colo. 2014), did not preclude the Claimant from pursuing a DIME when he suffered no wage loss or no lost time. ICAO agreed with the determinations of the ALJ that the Claimant suffered a “disability,” which is evidenced by his physical restrictions which impaired his ability to perform his job. In this case, Claimant was assigned work restrictions by the ATP. However, his Employer continued to pay his full wages. ICAO reasoned that a Claimant must obtain a DIME to challenge “the ATP’s MMI determination, the impairment rating, or both…” even if the Employer continues the Claimant’s wages despite work restrictions.

 

Moral of the Story: Even if a Claimant suffered no wage loss or no lost time, they are still permitted to obtain a DIME.

Recovery of Overpayments in Workers’ Compensation Claims

The issue of overpayments has drawn much attention in recent years.   Several claimsOverpayment in WC Claims have gone up to the appellate courts regarding the jurisdiction and ability of the Division and an ALJ to order repayment of workers’ compensation benefits that were previously paid.  As you may imagine, repayment of several thousand dollars by a claimant is usually very difficult, if not impossible.  Employers and carriers usually protect themselves and recoup overpayment from future benefits owed.  Several cases have emerged, (as well as arguments from claimants), that recovery of over-payments is impermissible, unconstitutional, and burdensome.

 

The parties must always take into consideration that the workers’ compensation system is a gamble at every stage.   The parties often encounter substantial risk throughout the claim that could tip the scales in favor of one party or the other.  The Division IME is one such process.  Another example is a merits hearing and the ultimate determination of the ALJ.  Claimants risk that benefits paid earlier in the claim will suddenly become an overpayment based on the opinions of either a physician or a Judge, or both.

 

Pursuant to section 8-40-201(15.5), C.R.S., an overpayment is defined as: “money received by a claimant that exceeds the amount that should have been paid, or which the claimant was not entitled to receive, or which results in duplicate benefits because of offsets that reduce disability or death benefits payable under said articles. For an overpayment to result, it is not necessary that the overpayment exist at the time the claimant received disability or death benefits under said articles.”

 

Recovery of overpayments is permitted within the Act.  Many examples exist in which a claimant may have been paid money that they were not owed.  Most of the time, Respondents recoup an overpayment from PPD or future indemnity.  However, in a situation in which there are no future benefits owed, the Act allows for garnishment of the claimant’s assets upon filing of a final order with the district court.  Section 8-43-306(1), C.R.S. states, “A certified copy of any final order of the director or an administrative law judge ordering the payment of  any penalty  or  repayment  of  overpayments  pursuant  to  articles 40 to 47 of this title may be filed with the clerk of the district  court  of  any  county  in  this  state  at  any  time  after  the  period  of  time  provided  by  articles  40  to  47  of  this  title  for  appeal  or  seeking  review  of  the  order  has  passed  without  appeal or review being sought or, if appeal or review is sought, after  the  order  has  been  finally  affirmed  and  all  appellate  remedies and all opportunities for review have been exhausted. The party filing the order shall at the same time file a certificate to  the  effect  that the  time  for  appeal  or  review  has  passed without appeal or review being undertaken or that the order has been  finally  affirmed  with  all  appellate  remedies  and  all  opportunities for review having been exhausted. The clerk of the  district  court  shall  record  the  order  and  the  filing  party’s  certificate in the judgment book of said court and entry thereof made in the judgment docket, and it shall thenceforth have all the effect of a judgment of the district court, and execution may issue thereon out of said court as in other cases. Any such order may be filed by and in the name of the director or by and in the name of the party in the worker’s compensation action who was injured by the violation of any provision of articles 40 to 47 of this title  or  who  was  found  to  be  entitled  to  repayment  of  overpayments under said articles.”

 

It is quite difficult for a claimant attorney to explain to their client that money that was previously received by a claimant, now had to be paid back to the carrier.  For example, when a Division IME physician backdates the date of MMI, and TTD that was paid during the prior MMI period, now becomes an overpayment; a claimant is often left with the burden of understanding how a physician can retroactively find that MMI happened earlier in time.  Another example is recovery of benefits against SSDI that is being collected.  Claimant sometimes believe that they are entitled to SSDI and TTD/TPD concurrently without an offset.

 

Many arguments have been made to the appellate courts unsuccessfully regarding collection of an overpayment.  One such argument involves “monies due and owed at the time of payment.”  Any money paid to the claimant at the time it was owed should not be an “overpayment” pursuant to the Act.  This argument was addressed by the Court of Appeals and they declined to follow it indicating that the Act allows for repayment of monies in situations in which the money was never due in the first place.  It wouldn’t be surprising for this line of thinking to be quickly eroded by a legislative change in which an overpayment is defied expressly in the statute by other means in which the facts of a case would not change the overall intentions of the way it was written.

 

For now, Respondents have one-year from the date the overpayment exists or accrued to claim it.  If it is not claimed, it is considered waived.  If an overpayment of indemnity exists on a file, it is best to claim it right away and strategize with counsel how best to recoup the overpayment.  Sometimes, remedies can be worked out with the claimant to make both parties happy and ensure that there is not prejudice to either side.  It can certainly prevent an Order being granted which puts the claimant is a difficult position of having to make a repayment of monies, when in all likelihood the money is either gone and/or has a very little chance of being seen again.

 

If you have any questions regarding an overpayment, recoupment, or strategy regarding benefits on a claim; please contact any of the attorneys at Lee & Brown, LLC.

 

 

2018 LEGISLATIVE SUMMARY

BACKGROUND

The 2018 legislative session wrapped-up about a month ago.  There are always bills that have some workers’ compensation implications, or are directly sponsored by workers’ compensation groups.  This legislative session was marked by inactivity in the workers’ compensation area, rather than the usual active session.  Therefore, I will start with a review of what did not happen before discussing what did.

PRE-SESSION ISSUES NOT ADDRESSED LEGISLATIVELY

Several workers’ compensation groups traditionally consider areas ripe for legislative repair prior to the legislative session.  Primarily, Pinnacol Assurance, as the largest workers’ compensation carrier, the Colorado Self-insured Association (CSIA), representing entities that self-insure for workers’ compensation and the Workers’ Compensation Education Association (WCEA), representing injured workers.  Traditionally there is also communication and input from the Director between these groups and other stakeholders, that identifies other areas of the Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act needing repair.  In most years this generates a negotiated Bill that passes through the Legislature and is signed by the Governor.  In 2018 no negotiated Bill was reached.  That does not mean the Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act has reached a point of perfection.  There are still areas where a legislative fix may be needed.  Here are examples of areas not addressed legislatively in 2018.

The Loofbourrow problem:  As you may or may not be aware, there are ICAO decisions citing to the Loofbourrow decision that basically place claims where no indemnity has been paid into a non-claim limbo.  Harmen-Bergstadt, Inc. v. Loofbourrow, 320 P.3d 327 (Colo. 2014) is a case that loosely held that claims where temporary disability and permanent disability have not been paid, are not governed by a finding of maximum medical improvement.  This status calls into question whether a Final Admission of Liability filed on a no-lost-time claim is valid and whether a Division Independent Medical Examination (DIME) can be obtained in these claims, let alone what weight a DIME has if a DIME can be had at all.  Like Brigadoon these claims appear and then fade into the mist with nary proof they even existed.  This problem remains fertile for a legislative fix, but it did not happen in the 2018 session.

Interlocutory Orders: There remains an issue over whether an order can be appealed when no benefits have been granted or denied.  Decisions involving whether a benefit was granted or denied are murky.  As a general rule, to make sure a benefit is in play for there to be a sustainable appeal, always put a specific dollar figure assigned to a benefit before the hearing ALJ.  Until then solidifying what is an appealable order remains a possible area for a legislative fix, outlining an ability to appeal an order notwithstanding the grant or denial of benefits.

Reportable Claims:  Somewhat tied to the Loofbourrow problem is the issue of what constitutes a DOWC reportable claim.  The question of whether a claim should be reported after a certain amount of time receiving treatment is another possible legislative issue that may allow for a way to build around the Loofbourrow problem.  Once again, this was not legislatively addressed in the 2018 session, but may arise in the future.

SESSION ISSUES ADDRESED LEGISLATIVELY

Reciprocity:  Reciprocity allows for coverage in one state to be effectively applied in another state for employers who have employees working in that state.  It eliminates the need for buying workers’ compensation insurance to cover people working in Colorado from another state.  It is not uncommon for contiguous states to have reciprocity with each other for workers’ compensation coverage.  About 30 years ago, when Senate Bill 218 was passed, Colorado did not include its reciprocity statute and is one of the only states that did not have reciprocity with any other state.  This issue became important recently.  The Wyoming legislature was considering a statute to require employees from a Colorado employer working in Wyoming, to buy a Wyoming policy unless Colorado had reciprocity.  In 2018 Colorado passed HB 18-1308 that creates reciprocity with the contiguous states and eliminates this problem for employers.

Commercial Vehicle Operators and Similar Coverage: SB 8-178 was passed that excludes commercial vehicle operators, as defined under Section 42-4-235(1)(a)(I)(B), C.R.S., basically limousine drivers, from the definition of employee and allows players to obtain an occupational accident policy in lieu of coverage under a workers’ compensation policy.

Opioid Misuse:  Tangentially related to workers’ compensation, HB 18-1003 was passed.  This Bill sets up a committee and framework to study the substance abuse issues in Colorado associated with opioids.

BOTTOM LINE

There has been cooperation in the past between interest groups and stakeholders in fixing obvious problems in the Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act.  This year there was cooperation; however, not much activity.  For a longtime Colorado enjoyed a Legislature split between the two main parties.  This kept radical changes from being proposed to the Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act by either side.  With elections coming in November that could change and the next legislative session could end-up being much more active.

 

#MeToo and EPLI Policies

In response to the #MeToo movement, companies have begun taking an increased role to prevent and police sexual harassment in the workplace. Protecting employees from any form of sexual misconduct or harassment should undoubtedly be the primary goal of these efforts. However, any proactive measures cannot guarantee that no incidents will occur, and companies’ future interests will be at risk.  Consequently, counsel and risk managers should look to employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) which can provide coverage and pay for the defense of such claims. EPLI policies provide coverage for many types of the claims employees make against their employers that are not covered by workers compensation policies, including sexual harassment.

 

What is an EPLI Policy?

EPLI policies are generally sold on a claims-made basis, which means claims made against your company during the policy period are covered. There are some wrinkles to consider, however, if one is buying such a policy for the first time, or perhaps changing carriers for better terms or coverage. Most claims-made EPLI policies have a retroactive date, which provides that claims made during the policy period based on acts that took place before the “retro date” are not covered. When buying coverage new, negotiate for the earliest retro date you can get, taking into consideration relevant statutes of limitation. When switching carriers, one option sometimes available is to purchase “tail coverage” under the expiring policy that extends it to cover claims in the future, as long as the underlying acts took place before the policy expired. This can allow the new policy to have a retro date simultaneous with the policy inception. Also, consider giving notice under the expiring policy for potential claims that have not yet been made. Some policies require this. Others permit it at the policyholder’s discretion. Be careful when answering any questions on a policy application regarding known or potential claims, as this can be a minefield.

 

Coverage Basics

EPLI policies usually cover claims for discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, or disability, including related claims for harassment. Policies commonly exclude claims arising under workers’ compensation laws and policies, and claims under federal labor laws unrelated to discrimination or harassment, such as union-related laws, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the Fair Labor and Standards Act, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act and COBRA. Policies are not uniform, so read them carefully. Moreover, even if a policy excludes one of the above types of claims, it might be possible to have it added by endorsement.

 

One issue is the extent to which many of the claims purportedly covered under EPLI policies are insurable. Based on public policy, states often place limits on the extent to which intentional acts may be insured, and claims of discrimination or harassment can often include allegations of knowing and intentional acts. Thus, a company should consider carefully when purchasing an EPLI policy which state’s law likely will apply and whether that state has spoken on the public policy.

 

Definition of a “Claim”

A policyholder usually will receive notice of an employment claim in one of four ways:

  • Oral complaint from an employee.
  • Written notice from a claimant.
  • Written notice from an agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Receipt of a lawsuit.

Whether any or all of the above will trigger coverage under a particular policy will depend upon the policy’s “claim” definition. This definition can affect when notice is due, when defense costs are covered, and other secondary but important matters.

Ideally, the definition will include provisions that the demand can be for relief other than monetary damages, including “reinstatement, reemployment or re-engagement.” Such a change does more than effect a change in when coverage is triggered — it can create a much broader substantive coverage grant.

 

Defense Costs and Related Issues

EPLI policies commonly require the insurance company to pay the costs of defending claims. Disputes may arise over whether the insurance company is required to advance defense costs, or reimburse the policyholder after a claim is resolved. Another common issue concerns the allocation of defense costs among covered and uncovered claims. Whether the insurance company may pay only costs associated with covered claims may depend upon the wording of the policy as well as the applicable state law

 

Fraudulent or Malicious Acts Exclusions

Most EPLI policies contain an exclusion for deliberate and seriously wrongful acts. The following example states that the insurance company will not be liable for any claim:

arising out of, based upon, or attributable to the committing in fact of any criminal or deliberate fraudulent act.

This exclusion seeks to preclude coverage for fraudulent and criminal acts, and omits an important protection for policyholders. Because so many claims contain such allegations, it is now common for these exclusions to contain an exception that provides that the exclusion applies only “if a judgment or other final adjudication adverse to the Insured establishes such a deliberately fraudulent act or omission.” This clause ensures that a policyholder who faces allegations of fraud will have its defense costs paid, and will only lose coverage if the fraud is proved. Another important exception provides that the criminal or fraudulent act of one policyholder will not be imputed to other policyholders.

 

Conclusion

Although there are many hurdles and prerequisites to securing insurance coverage for sexual harassment, employment discrimination, and other employee claims, a company’s insurance policies are a critical source for financial support against such claims. Should your company be faced with a claim related to its employment practices, immediately notify, in writing, all insurance companies that may possibly provide coverage for that claim. Forward all relevant information regarding the claim to the insurance company. And if the insurance company denies the claim, do not take no for an answer.

 

DIMEs ARE NOT WORTH A DIME and/or ICAO’S DESCENT (VIA DISSENT) INTO MADNESS

BACKGROUND

On February 26, 2018 Industrial Claim Appeals Office (ICAO) issued an opinion captioned Yeutter v. CBW Automation, Inc. Dimes not worth a Dimeand Pinnacol Assurance, W.C. No. 4-895-940. The decision sparked great interest in the workers’ compensation community and was a primary topic of discussion at the recent Spring Update CLE as well as the latest Case Law Update. The decision raises questions over how causation over different components of an injury can/should be litigated during the progression of a claim.

 

FACTS

Claimant worked as an engineer performing robotic programming tasks. He was hurt on August 24, 2012 when he was struck in the face by a carbon fiber pole. His injuries included a skull fracture, nerve damage, a broken arm, broken orbital skull sockets and a torn rotator cuff. In November 2013 Claimant began complaining to his treaters that he was experiencing fatigue and sleep disturbance. Claimant underwent a sleep study showing that he had narcolepsy. Claimant was prescribed Adderall, which he began taking in larger and larger doses to stay employed. Claimant had to reduce his Adderall use, but was unable to perform his job and ultimately stopped working in February 2015.
Claimant was placed at MMI effective August 26, 2015. Claimant was diagnosed as suffering from a traumatic brain injury that induced narcolepsy. Claimant received 67% whole person rating. Respondents requested a DIME. The DIME deferred to the treating doctor over whether Claimant’s injuries included post-traumatic narcolepsy and gave Claimant a 39% whole person rating. Respondents filed a FAL on March 2, 2016 based on the DIME.

 

Claimant claimed permanent total disability (PTD). The employer’s long-term disability program generated expert reports that concluded Claimant was not so disabled from his injury as to be unable to work. Respondents also obtained evaluations from various experts that concluded Claimant’s condition should not keep him from work. These evaluations included a neuropsychological evaluation the concluded it was not possible to state that the traumatic brain injury caused narcolepsy. The ALJ ultimately determined that medical evidence was too speculative for a causal connection to be established between Claimant’s injury and the narcolepsy.

 

RULING

The ALJ found that, even assuming Claimant’s employability was limited by narcolepsy, he remained employable. The ALJ determined that Claimant failed to prove entitlement to maintenance medical benefits, citing to an IME doctor’s opinion the Claimant’s need for narcolepsy medication was not related to the injury.

 

HOLDING

Claimant appealed arguing, in part, that the DIME’s findings were binding on the parties. The ICAO affirmed the ALJ, basically citing to the ALJ’s ability to resolve evidence and upholding an ALJs factual findings, so long as they are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Addressing Claimant’s argument over the binding effect of the DIME opinion regarding causation of the narcolepsy, the ICAO cited to the clear and convincing evidence burden given to the DIME over MMI and impairment, but that the DIME’s opinions on other issues are just another medical opinion. About half of the majority ICAO’s opinion is directed at arguments raised in a dissent.

 

THE DISSENT

The dissent disagrees with the decision in that it allows the ALJ to conclude Claimant’s narcolepsy is not a part of the original injury. The dissent disagrees with this because it allows the Respondents to simultaneously stipulate that the narcolepsy was part of the work injury for permanent disability purposes while contending that it is not part of the work injury for maintenance medical benefits and PTD benefits. The dissent relies heavily on Leprino Foods, Co. v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 134 P.3d 475 (Colo. App. 2005). In that case, Claimant had an elbow injury with a possible shoulder component. A DIME took place and found Claimant was not at MMI due to the shoulder. Respondents did not challenge the DIME and it was determined that Claimant’s entitlement to TTD received a clear and convincing evidence burden based on the DIME’s determination Claimant was not at MMI due to his shoulder. The dissent basically takes the position that it is unfair for Respondents to accept Claimant’s narcolepsy as a source of impairment producing an admission of liability in accordance with the DIME, but allow Respondents to challenge this condition as not work-related in a PTD and maintenance medical hearing.

 

IMPLICATIONS

Use of Yeutter: The Yeutter case is likely being appealed further. The case raises several issues. First, the case currently exists just as an ICAO decision, so it does not have precedential value in front of ALJs. In the event that the Court of Appeals thinks a decision it comes to in Yeutter clarifies how a DIME’s opinion can be applied, it may be selected for publication, which would provide for precedential value. A rare dissent at ICAO may lead to a published decision from the Colorado Court of Appeals.

DIMEs: DIMEs only receive a clear and convincing evidence burden over the numbers, meaning MMI and impairment. The issues of MMI and impairment are tied directly to Claimant’s physical condition, including whatever body parts may have been injured. In this case it appears undisputed that Claimant had narcolepsy and that the narcolepsy was disabling. Further, the DIME deferred to the treating physician over whether narcolepsy was related to the work injury. The treating physician’s opinion was that the narcolepsy was work injury related. A primary dispute at the PTD hearing was whether Claimant’s narcolepsy was related to the injury. It should be noted that the ALJ insulated his opinion, at least as to PTD, by finding that, even if narcolepsy was related to the work injury and disabling, Claimant was still able to earn wages. Regardless, the issue remains over how to untangle the DIME numbers from the physical condition of Claimant and what untangling these things means in a claim.

Incentives: Respondents may have different incentives to contest a body part as not related to the work injury through the progression of the claim. For instance, respondents may elect to pay medical benefits for conditions that may not be part of the work injury. It simply may not be worth challenging treatment for a condition when balancing that issue against the cost of care. In Yeutter, Respondents accepted an impairment rating in the context of a clear and convincing evidence burden over that number. The incentive to challenge the narcolepsy was significantly higher in the context of a PTD, thus the challenge to the narcolepsy.

 

BOTTOM LINE

If further appealed, the Yeutter case may flesh-out some logical inconsistencies. There is a fundamental fairness in not having Claimant go into every hearing prepared to litigate compensability of body parts that have previously been accepted as a part of the work injury in terms of treatment and even impairment. Further, Respondents should make a decision whether or not to challenge a body part as related to the work injury at some determinable point in a claim, knowing that determination will become a part of the claim moving forward. A DIME opinion over relatedness of a body part, whether a component of MMI or impairment, may be that determinable point for that decision. In the alternative, this could be the subject of a legislative fix.

The Workers’ Compensation System as a Prescription for Addiction

The workers’ compensation (WC) system provides the perfect prescription for opioid addiction. There are three types of injured workers that fall into this lair: active addicts, recovered addicts who relapse after taking medications following a work injury, and the neophyte who becomes addicted following their work injury. Thus, the system, although well-intentioned, creates and perpetuates dependency and addiction.

 

A WC claim can provide a lifetime funding source for medication and temporary and permanent disability benefits. One of the most frequent claims is a back claim. Pain cannot be objectively measured. The injured worker complains of pain that is aggravated by work. His physician prescribes opioids and restricts him from working. He is paid for his lost wages. The system for rating permanent impairment automatically qualifies him for an impairment rating after six months of medically documented pain, which then translates to an award of permanent disability benefits often worth as much as –one to two years’ of income.

It is well known that workers with opioid abuse have higher claim costs.

 

While estimates vary, it is believed that the top 5 percent of opioid users likely account for more than half of total opioid use.

When those individuals find their way into the WC system, insignificant injuries turn into nightmare claims. These often involve multiple medical procedures, permanent total disability, and sometimes drug overdose and death. These are difficult and expensive to settle due the thresholds established by Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services requiring that a Medicare Set-Aside fund be established as part of a settlement to ensure Medicare does not have to pay for any medical treatment that it deems to be the responsibility of WC. The lifetime projected cost of the opioid medication alone can often cost half a million dollars.

 

In the late 1990s, it was thought that doctors were undertreating pain and that opioid analgesics could safely ease the suffering. Following the increase in opioid prescriptions, deaths began to escalate. In response, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released new guidelines concerning prescribing opioids for chronic pain in March 2016. According to the CDC, from 1999 through 2014, more than 165,000 people died from opioid-related deaths in the U.S.

 

In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid medications. That is one prescription for every adult in the U.S.

 

The guidelines have caused some backlash from physicians and patients who believe the government is interfering with the patient-physician relationship. However, there is a fundamental agreement that more oversight and education is needed at all levels.

 

Long-term opioid use can be counterproductive in workers’ compensation and can be a contributing factor in an injured worker not returning to the workplace. The use of opioids for acute pain and cancer pain is accepted, where symptom relief rather than functional outcome is the goal. However, the use of opioids for chronic pain is controversial; it could be contraindicated and may “do harm.” Opioids cause known side effects of hyperalgesia, constipation, hypogonadism, dizziness, drowsiness, overdose potential, etc. The CDC guidelines[1] note that opioid use disorder “is manifested by specific criteria such as an unsuccessful effort to cut down or control use resulting in social problems and a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.”

 

The Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation (CDOW) issued amended medical treatment guidelines (MTG) for Chronic Pain Disorder and for Chronic Regional Pain effective November 30, 2017. CDOWC relies heavily on the CDC guidelines. The guidelines, though not binding on any physician, are peer-reviewed by both experts in the field and industry stakeholders.

 

The MTG suggest that chronic use of opioids is not recommended if the patient has an active or previous history of substance abuse or for workers in safety-sensitive positions. Opioids for chronic pain should not be prescribed unless there was a failure of pain management alternatives by a motivated patient including active and cognitive behavioral therapies. A full physical and psychological assessment must be performed. The physician must consider risk factors, including history of severe post-operative pain, opioid tolerance, chronic pain, sleep apnea, being off work for over six months, depression, anxiety, psychiatric disease or disorder, history of substance use disorder, complaint of all-over body pain, opioid sensitivities, and history of intrathecal pump use or spinal cord stimulator.

 

When opioids are prescribed, the physician should continue prescriptions only if “meaningful improvement” in pain and function outweighs the risk of continued use. The guidelines recommend that the patients demonstrate a 30 percent improvement in pain scores and function to justify continued opioid use. In other words, opioids must be used as a method to improve function rather than just sustain the status quo condition. The physician should actively review patient history of controlled substances, document improved function, consult the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and conduct random drug screenings.

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[1] The CDC guidelines can be found at www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm655051e1.htm.


This article was originally published with Best Lawyers® “Legal Insights” on www.BestLawyers.com.”

 

Settlement Procedures in Workers’ Compensation

Member Joseph Gren co-authored an article for the Colorado Lawyer, July 2017 edition. The article, Settlement Procedures in Workers’ Compensation, is an in-depth explanation of the unique procedural requirements governing settlement of Colorado Workers’ Compensation Claims.

The Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) has permitted settlement of workers’ compensation claims since at least 1919. As in civil cases, the Act and accompanying Division of Workers’ Compensation (DOWC or Division) rules permit both represented and pro se parties to settle workers’ compensation claims, though there are procedural safeguards unique to the workers’ compensation system. Similar to legal matters outside of the workers’ compensation context, settlement is often an attractive resolution for parties, as settlement can expedite finality and reduce overall risk and exposure. Legal authority for settlement of workers’ compensation claims lies in statute, case law, and the Workers’ Compensation Rules of Procedure (WCRP). DOWC recently amended and renumbered the procedural rules related to settlement effective April 15, 2016, and September 14, 2016.

This article provides a practical overview of the settlement procedure for Colorado workers’ compensation claims and highlights recent changes to administrative rules.

Click this link, or the link in the article name, to read the full article. A new tab will open with the PDF.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE — FIRST RESPONDERS’ COVERAGE FOR PTSD

2017 saw more legislative action related to workers’ compensation than Colorado has seen for the past few years.  Three bills were introduced in the Colorado Legislature and all three passed.  One of the newly enacted bills, HB 17-1229, was enacted on June 5, 2017, with an effective date of July 1, 2018 (subject to exception)[1].  It amends section 8-41-301, C.R.S., relating to the conditions of recovery for claims of mental impairment.  Under the current law, an employee can file a “mental only” (i.e., there is no associated physical injury) claim only as a result of employment-related situations consisting of a “psychologically traumatic event that is generally outside of a worker’s usual experience and would evoke significant symptoms of distress in a worker in similar circumstances”.   The claimed mental impairment must be proven by the testimony of a licensed physician or psychologist.  Strict judicial interpretation of this statutory language resulted in the de facto disqualification of police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders from the receipt of mental impairment benefits for PTSD claims because violent and bloody incidents, including the deaths of others, were deemed to be within their “usual” work experience.   While it is true some of these professionals do encounter repeat exposure to horrific events as part of their typical work experience without impact, others struggle to secure the coverage and psychiatric care they need to help them deal with gruesome work situations, which might be “expected” in their occupation, but are still somewhat atypical.  Section 8-41-301, C.R.S., as amended, allows workers to claim workers’ compensation coverage for PTSD in a limited set of circumstances, based on repeated exposure to violent incidents.  It also retains the statute’s existing requirement that, outside the few exceptions that apply primarily to peace officers and first responders, mental impairment coverage is implicated only when an incident is outside a worker’s usual experience.  As before, a mental impairment shall not be considered to arise out of and in the course of employment if it results from a disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, lay off, demotion, promotion, termination, retirement, or similar action taken in good faith by the employer. To qualify for mental impairment benefits under the amended statute, the worker must be diagnosed with PTSD by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist following exposure to one or more of the following events:

 

  • The worker is the subject of an attempt by another person to cause the worker serious bodily injury or death through the use of deadly force, and the worker reasonably believes the worker is the subject of the attempt;
  • The worker visually witnesses a death, or the immediate aftermath of the death, of one or more people as a result of a violent event; or
  • The worker repeatedly visually witnesses the serious bodily injury, or the immediate aftermath of the serious bodily injury, of one or more people as the result of the intentional act of another person or an accident.

 

These changes to the mental impairment statute achieve a balance that is fair to first responders, while maintaining appropriate limitations on coverage for others in nonviolent occupations, and protecting the interests of employers and insurers.  The act applies to injuries sustained on or after its effective date, July 1, 2018.

If you have questions about the recently enacted workers’ compensation legislation, or any questions about workers’ compensation, please contact Lee + Kinder LLC.

 

[1] This act takes effect July 1, 2018; except that, if a referendum petition is filed pursuant to the applicable state constitutional provision, then the act will not take effect unless approved by the people at the November 2018 general election.

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