3 weeks ago I wrote about a woman in Arkansas named Lauren Eason, who had been denied a change of physician, even though her dear doctor was now dearly departed – as in dead as a doornail. It seems the woman had already changed physicians once, and in accordance with Arkansas law, she was not entitled to another change.
This was clearly a case of unintended consequences; a law designed to prevent abusive doctor shopping had ensnared a seemingly innocent bystander. While Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission CEO Alan McClain was quoted as saying there were administrative solutions for her, the window given for the fix was still reported to be 3 to 6 months.
To their credit, WCC did not shrink from this issue. The article generated a bit of discussion on the LinkedIn group Workers' Compensation Roundtable. CEO McClain posted a response there, attempting to clarify the issue a bit more. He stated essentially that the law may have prohibited the agency from selecting another doctor, but “as long as the employer has not denied medical benefits then the injured employee is entitled to medical care, arranged and paid for by the employer/carrier, regardless of the agency’s administrative ability to select a treating physician." Admittedly I am not the easiest person to ‘splain something to (you have to look me directly in the eye, speak slowly and use lots of pictures), but what I drew from that was this law was not a problem for an uncontested claim. I am not clear of what the status of Ms. Eason's claim was, but I suspect there were other circumstances affecting it as the denial from the state was pretty clear.
At any rate, the Arkansas WCC has responded with an advisory fixing the initial issue. Yesterday, they issued AWCC ADVISORY 2012-1, declaring:
“When the physician named in a Change of Physician Order by the AWCC has passed away while actively treating the claimant for a compensable injury (or prior to releasing the claimant from treatment) or is known to the Commission to no longer be in practice without having made adequate provisions for the continued treatment of the claimant's compensable injury, the Change of Physician Order shall become null and void and shall no longer be considered the claimant's one time change of physician.”
I want to thank attorney Andy Caldwell of Little Rock, AR for first posting this in the Roundtable discussion.
I do not envy the role of regulators. They sit at ground zero in a highly adversarial industry, trying to balance the needs of all the stakeholders, learning every day that they cannot satisfy everyone all of the time. My job is much easier by comparison. I get to snipe at them and then go home and drink (I tried it the other way around for a while, but the results were less than stellar). When an agency moves quickly to both communicate an issue and right an unintentional wrong, they deserve to be publicly applauded.
To Alan McClain and his staff at the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission, I say well done. Go ahead and take the rest of the day off. You've earned it.