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Judges rule on workers' comp billing issues

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Employers or their insurers - not health care providers - must prove when medical expenses for injured employees might be considered higher than what's allowed under the state's workers' compensation statute, according to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

In a series of rulings today that deal with injured firefighters and city workers in multiple Hoosier communities, a three-judge appellate panel interpreted the Indiana Workers' Compensation Act and how it applies to state statutes about medical billing disputes.

"This case requires us to review several statutes under the Act that balance the right of medical service providers to seek payment for medical care to injured workers, against the right of employers to demand that such payments not be excessive," the unanimous panel wrote, turning to its own Indiana precedent as well as rulings from other state and federal courts.

The cases are Washington Township Fire Department v. Beltway Surgery Center, No. 93A02-0811-EX-01006; City of Michigan City v. Memorial Hospital, No. 93A02-0811-EX-01010; and Onward Fire Department v. Clarian Health Partners, No. 93A02-0811-EX-01007. Three other suits on identical issues, filed the same day in November and assigned to the same writing panel of judges, were handed down June 25. They are Adecco Inc. v. Clarian Health Partners, No. 93A02-0811-EX-1008; Morgan County Commissioners v. Clarian Health Partners, No. 93A02-0811-EX-1009; and Wayne Township Fire Department v. Beltway Surgery Center, No. 93A02-0811-EX-1011.

The Washington case handed down June 24 dealt with medical provider Beltway Surgery Center, specifically involving about $11,563 in billed medical care that an injured firefighter received in March 2005 after sustaining injuries on the job. The township's workers' compensation insurer hired a billing review service as allowed by the Indiana Workers' Compensation Act, and that service determined the surgery center was charging too much - it didn't fall below a standard 80th percentile, the maximum amount an employer's "pecuniary liability" can be for medical services under the act. That service recommended that only about $5,104 be paid, and Beltway Surgery took the case to the compensation board to recover the remaining unpaid amount it had billed.

The other two unpublished opinions dealt with similar issues, one involving a Michigan City employee who received care at Memorial Hospital of South Bend, and the other an Onward Fire Department employee who received care at Clarian Health Partners.

With the lead and only published opinion of Washington, the panel unanimously determined that if an employer or its insurer refuses to pay the full amount of a medical service provider's bill, then the employer must prove before the Indiana Workers' Compensation Board that its pecuniary liability to that provider is less than the billed charges. The judges also held that if an employer fails to prove how a billing review service calculated that the amount exceeded the 80th percentile standard, then the board could order the employer to pay the full amount of the submitted bill.

"We conclude that placing the burden of proof on the employer is more consistent with Indiana law generally and with the Act itself," the court wrote. "The 80th percentile rule is a more precise codification of the general principle that medical bills sought to be recovered during litigation be reasonable and not be excessive."

Since employers or their insurers are allowed to hire billing review companies, then those reviewers should be capable of offering proof as to why a billed amount might be considered excessive, the court wrote. To conclude otherwise and require doctors or hospitals to prove why their bills aren't excessive would presume that happens more often than not and might stop medical service providers from providing that care to injured workers, out of fear they might not get fully paid.

"The value of such assurance of payment as an incentive for medical service providers to treat injured workers under the Act would be greatly diminished if employers, their insurers, and billing review services were permitted to make unilateral decisions to pay providers less than the amount of their billed charges without being required to prove the validity of such a reduction," the court wrote.

It would be up to the General Assembly to amend statute so that medical providers bear the burden of establishing that their bills fall outside that guideline, the judges determined.

The panel affirmed each of the decisions by the Workers' Compensation Board to place the burden on employers, and award the full amount of billed charges.

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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