Posted On: November 17, 2011 by Glenn Neiman

Workers’ Comp Judge in PA Can Award Penalties When Outstanding Medical Bills are Primary Evidence

When a workers’ compensation insurance carrier in Pennsylvania does not agree with the medical treatment being received by an injured worker, there are steps the carrier can take. The most common is “Utilization Review,” which challenges the reasonableness and necessity of medical treatment. The carrier can also file a Petition to Review Medical Treatment, if the treatment is believed to be unrelated to the work injury. While the workers’ comp insurance company has the further option of simply ignoring the medical bills, this can lead to an undesirable result for the insurance carrier.

Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision in the matter of CVA, Inc. and State Workers’ Insurance Fund v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Riley), where the insurance carrier took that last option and just ignored the bills it did not like. Thankfully for injured workers in PA, the decision did not go well for the insurance carrier.

This case involved a worker who injured his left knee, and received therapeutic magnetic resonance (TMR) treatment. Bills were sent to the workers’ comp insurance adjuster, who denied the bills, saying either that the documentation did not support the charges, the documentation did not support the billing code, or the treatment was unrelated to the work injury. The injured worker then filed a Petition for Penalties.

Before the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ), the injured worker submitted the outstanding bills (on what is called HCFA forms, the usual billing forms) and medical records to support the treatment. The workers’ comp insurance carrier submitted no evidence at all. The WCJ granted the Petition for Penalties.

The primary argument raised by the workers’ comp insurance carrier was that the injured worker had a greater burden to prove a violation of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, a requirement to assess a Penalty. Initially, the WCJ overruled the hearsay objection placed to the injured worker’s evidence, finding depositions of witnesses were not necessary. The workers’ comp insurance carrier then termed TMR a “novel” medical treatment, akin to “shaman oriented drivel.” No doubt the cost, at about $3,000.00 per treatment, played a role in this response (the outstanding bill at issue was just over $140,000.00). The WCJ found that the injured worker had no burden to prove the treatment at issue was “generally accepted” in the medical community.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania was no more sympathetic to the workers’ comp insurance carrier’s complaints. The Court observed that the insurance carrier could have initiated Utilization Review, if it questioned the reasonableness or necessity, or filed a Petition to Review Medical Treatment, if it disputed the relatedness. Whether treatment is “generally accepted” in the medical community goes to whether the treatment is reasonable or necessary, so that can only be addressed through Utilization Review (in other words, a WCJ lacks jurisdiction to even address whether treatment is reasonable or necessary). In the context of a Petition for Penalties, the Court found, the question was simply whether the payment of the bills was denied. The evidence submitted by the injured worker, showing the bills were for treatment to the left knee and were denied by the insurance carrier, was sufficient to establish the Petition for Penalties.