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Split WCAB: Untimely IMR Invalid

Hello, dear readers!

Friday is upon us – the weekend looms just around the corner, and, once more, the resources of the WCAB are deployed to address disputes over UR and IMR.

Today I report to you the case of Saunders v. Loma Linda University Medical Group.  Therein, the defendant declined to authorize medical treatment in the form of pool therapy (think swimming, not billiards).  UR timely denied the request for authorization, but the injured worker challenged the IMR decision, arguing that, under Labor Code section 4610.6(d), the IMR decision is invalid.

Section 4610.6(d) provides that IMR must be completed “within 30 days of the receipt of the request for review and supporting documentation…” In the Saunders case, the IMR decision reflects a receipt date of January 29, 2014, and a determination date of June 26, 2014.

The commissioners held that as section 4610.6(d) provides for a 30-day response by the IMR reviewers, and section 9792.10.5(a)(1) provides 15 days for the administrator to provide additional information, resulting in a 45-day-window for IMR to provide a response.  In this case, as IMR’s turn-around time was closer to five months, thereby returning jurisdiction to the WCJ to determine, on the merits of the situation, whether the medical treatment should be allowed.

Citing Dubon II, the commissioners ultimately held that “[a]s with an untimely UR, the issue of timeliness of an IMR determination is a legal dispute that is within the jurisdiction of the WCAB.”  The majority ultimately ordered the matter returned to the WCJ for a determination on whether (1) IMR was timely performed; and (2) if not, whether applicant should be entitled to treatment.

Commissioner Zalewski, however, dissented.  Taking the position that the legislature intended for IMR and UR to be the sole venue for resolution of medical treatment disputes, commissioners Zalewski would have let the IMR decision stand.  Labor Code section 4610.6 provides the grounds upon which an IMR decision can be challenged, and untimeliness is not one of the reasons listed. Furthermore, commissioner Zalewski would have relied on Labor Code section 4610.6(i) “[i]n no event shall a workers’ compensation administrative law judge, the appeals board, or any higher court make a determination of medical necessity contrary to the determination of the independent medical review organization.”

Unsurprisingly, your humble blogger agrees with Commissioner Zalewski’s position: the purpose of SB-863 in this regard was to confine, as much as possible, medical treatment determinations to medical professionals – M.D.s and not J.D.s.

Furthermore, unlike with an untimely UR, a physician (the underlying UR physician) has already reviewed the request for authorization and determined to deny authorization in full or in part.

In a case such as this, if the WCJ or the WCAB decides that IMR is untimely, and the WCAB has jurisdiction to review and decide the issue of medical necessity, it would have to overturn the opinions of a doctor – the exact result the legislature sought to avoid by confining these issues to the UR – IMR process.

Now, your humble blogger gets it – while IMR proverbially fiddles, the injured worker proverbially burns.  But, as discussed above, this is an appeal from a prior timely determination – UR.

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