August 23, 2019

Body Parts and Insurance Companies

authorized treating physician refusal to treatI recently had a long and somewhat heated conversation with an insurance adjuster about body parts.  Specifically, I wanted the adjuster to authorize medical treatment for my client’s neck and back , but the adjuster only wanted to authorize the treating physician to provide care for my client’s back.

As ridiculous as this may sound, this type of negotiation happens all the time in a workers compensation.  Though common sense would tell you that an employee who injures his low back falling from an 8 foot ladder might reasonably be expected to suffer neck injuries as well (such as when his head hits a concrete floor), insurance companies are very careful not to assume anything.

The problem in my case arose from my client’s first conversation with the posted panel doctor.  My client’s low back was in spasm and he was absolutely miserable, and he did not specifically mention any pain in his neck to the treating doctor.

I am thinking that my client had probably incurred a concussion and was not thinking straight in the first place so who knows what he told the company doctor.  By the time I was retained, almost two months had passed and now my client is receiving epidurals for his lower back – although he may need surgery soon – but no treatment at all for his neck.

When my client goes to the workers’ comp. doctor and tries to talk about his neck pain, the doctor tells him that the insurance adjuster has not authorized treatment for the neck so the doctor will not treat the neck.

Imaging a doctor’s appointment where the physician tells you “I’m sorry you’re in pain but I am not allowed to treat that part of your body!” [Read more…]

What to do About Substandard Medical Care in Your Workers’ Compensation Case

industrial clinic doctorIf you have never been involved in the Georgia workers’ compensation system before, you may be shocked and disappointed to learn that some of the physicians you meet seem to have an agenda other than your health and best interest. The Georgia workers’ compensation statute has created an environment where insurance companies have a financial interest to find and use doctors who downplay the seriousness of your injuries and who intentionally avoid referring you for necessary, but expensive care.  The net result of this system can mean delay and unnecessary suffering for you.

I sometimes receive calls from injured workers who are receiving weekly wage benefits as well as medical care, who wonder why they should hire counsel if everything “seems to be working out okay.”  Sometimes they sense that something is not quite right but are wary of rocking the boat.

Know Your Doctor’s Reputation

I respond that one of the most valuable services I offer my clients has to do with my knowledge of and opinions about the medical providers that accept workers’ compensation referrals in Georgia.  After 20+ years of practice in this area of law, I have seen or know about the biases and quality of work offered by most of these doctors. [Read more…]

Case Study: Workers’ Comp Case Involving Outstanding Medical Bills

Welcome to the 5th installment of my summer long series on Georgia Workers’ comp case studies. In the following case study, I discuss a workers’ comp case involving outstanding medical bills.

Outstanding medical bills and your credit

One of the most common sources of damage to a person’s credit is outstanding (unpaid) medical bills.  If you are injured on the job, your medical bills should be covered by your employer’s workers comp insurance company.  Not surprisingly workers’ compensation insurers can be slow in paying medical bills and your credit may be the casualty in such a situation.   I have been retained by several clients to handle this issue because of the frustration and anger they feel when bill collectors start calling about medical debt that should have been paid weeks or months earlier by the insurance company.

Group Health vs. Workers’ Compensation: a Recipe for Confusion

Under Georgia workers’ compensation law, bills relating to your treatment from authorized treating physicians must be paid timely.  The law also provides that workers’ compensation insurance is “primary” – meaning that group health does not come into play when there is valid workers’ comp coverage.  Sometimes injured workers submit bills to a group insurance company because a supervisor instructs them to do so or because they do not realize that workers’ compensation is the primary insurance source.

If the group health carrier identifies your claim as a workers’ comp. claim, it will deny coverage.  If the physician’s office has coded the claim incorrectly it may send your account to a collection agency.   You may be caught in the middle trying to explain to a disinterested bill collector that your bill is covered by insurance, or you may find that the “authorized” treating doctor will refuse to treat you because of “unpaid” bills.

Recently, I represented an injured worker who found himself facing both collection and a refusal by his doctor to treat because of the outstanding balance.   When we settled this case, I insisted that a provision for future medical care must be included in the settlement.  Our settlement provided for:

  • monetary compensation for my client in the amount of “X” dollars
  • a confirmation that the health carrier has paid for all the current bills and will pay for any future bills from Dr. “W”
  • Dr. “W” must confirm with the group carrier that he does not need any further reimbursement until further services are rendered
  • medical payments and TTD continue being paid to my client pending approval of the settlement by the State Board

Please feel free to call me at 770-351-0801 if you are getting the run-around with regard to your medical bills or medical treatment.

What Can I Do if the Company Doctor Returns Me to Work But I am Still in Severe Pain?

I have worked for my employer for 20 years. Due to the type of extreme work that I did, over a period of time I damaged my spine and was told I had  2 herniated discs, one in my neck, the other in my lower back. Both areas also have bone spurs.

The first WC Dr. I went to told me I had a pulled muscle and sent me back to work Full duty. I had an MRI, which clearly showed the damage, but this Dr. chose to withold the results from me and off I went to work!   Knowing I could not perform my job, but under the threat of termination, I did as instructed. I could not stay the day and left, got another WC Dr. and when he saw the MRI, he told me about the damage.

I eventually had surgery on my lower back which has not helped very much and another MRI revealed that the disc is still slightly bulging hence the pain I feel daily. The “well known” surgeon, has chosen to release me to work on light duty and has changed his mind about my neck. Apparently he has decided that it is due to “age” (I am 45). He refuses to treat my neck and has become defensive and evasive in my dealings with him. It is like all of a sudden he is done with my treatment even though I am only half way treated. I am in constant pain and cannot do anything!

By the way, my job was loading 8,000 pounds of freight a day, and this Dr. says it suddenly has nothing to do with 20 years of that! How can a Dr. turn on his patient like this? WC has been as unhelpful as they can be. I know the Dr. has been told by WC to end his treatment and get rid of me. What is my recourse? I am young, have a young family and can’t go on in this pain and do not feel that I deserve this lack of medical care.

–Darryl

Jodi Ginsberg responds:  Darryl, thanks for your question.  In many cases if you are terminated while involved in a workers comp case, the termination can actually help your case. If you are terminated for no justifiable reason (typical reasons we often see include “disobedience,” “company policy violation,” etc..) and you are on light duty or no work status then your case is actually enhanced because the insurance company no longer has the leverage of finding a light duty job for, after which they could cut off your temporary total disability benefits.

We sometimes see a situation where our client is on a light duty job that was created at the request of the insurance company, but the employer does not like the idea of having a non-productive employee hanging around and the employer ends up firing the injured worker.  In such a case the insurance company then has to start paying temporary total disability benefits again because the claimant is no longer working.

Where you potentially face a problem with your case is when you are returned to full duty work.  If you have been released to full duty and are subsequently fired, then you will most likely have to go to court (the State Board of Workers Compensation) to get your benefits started.

As you can see, your work status (full duty vs. light duty vs. no duty) is very important as is the timing of any termination.

At this point, it appears that you have been released to full duty, therefore you are exposed. There are several options here, including negotiating an agreement with the insurance company to refer you to a new treating physician, or filing for a Hearing to Change the Authorized Treating Physician, using your “claimant’s independent medical exam.”

Unfortunately you have discovered the truly unpleasant side of Georgia workers compensation.