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Sergio Rodriguez was employed by Hagemann Meat Company and claims to have sustained an industrial injury while lifting a 70-pound box. of chicken to his low back, and in the form of left inguinal hernia and femoral entrapment neuropathy. The carrier initially denied the injury. .

The WCJ found an injury causing 6% permanent disability with no apportionment, and found that Dr. Keller was applicant’s primary treating physician and that the Permanente Medical Group/Kaiser Foundation Hospitals (Kaiser) had provided treatment reasonable and necessary to cure or relieve applicant; from the effects of his industrial injury. The WCJ awarded benefits and ordered defendant to pay Kaiser’s lien. Kaiser claimed an outstanding balance of.for $3,050.52. In the Opinion on Decision, he wrote: “As this was a denied case at the time [Kaiser’s] services were provided, Kaiser is not limited to the official fee schedule, only their usual and customary fee.”

Defendant filed a Petition for Reconsideration which did not contest that Kaiser is entitled to payment for medical services it provided to applicant but argues that Kaiser cannot.recover more than the amount set by the OMFS. The WCAB agreed and reversed in the case ofRodriguez v Hagemann Meat Company and Zenith Insurance Co.

Previously, several writ denied decisions have held that a medical provider is not limited to the OMFS when the injured employee’s claim has been denied. (CNA Insurance Companies v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (Valdez) (1997) 62 Cal.Comp.Cases 1145, 1146 (writ den.) (Valdez); Southern California Edison Co. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Ed (Wells) (1999) 65 Cal.Comp.Cases 100 (writ den.).) This line of cases originated with Federal Mogul Corp. v. Workmen’s Comp. Appeals Bd. (Whitworth) (1973) 38 Cal.Comp.Cases 584 (writ den.) (Whitworth), in which the applicant self-procured treatment after the defendant’s insurer did not accept the claim. The Whitworth decision held that the treating surgeon was entitled to the billed amount of his services rather than the amount set by the Official Minimum Fee Schedule, absent evidence that the billed charges were excessive.

The authors point out “Appeals Board panel decisions, including writ denied decisions, are not binding on other panels.” and further noted that “More importantly, the statutory basis for the Whitworth decision has changed in the ‘intervening years” and .thus chose to re-evaluate this issue.

That minimum fee schedule has since been replaced with an Official Medical Fee Schedule which establishes reasonable maximum fees. (Lab. Code, § 5307.1.) Administrative Rule 9792(c) now sets forth the specific circumstances under which a medical provider may recover more than the amount under the OMFS. “A medical provider or a licensed health c,are facility may be paid a fee in excess of the reasonable maximum fees [under the OMFS] if the fee is reasonable, accompanied by itemization, and justified by an explanation of extraordinary circumstances related to the unusual nature of the services rendered; however, in no event shall a physician charge in excess of his or her usual fee.” (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 9792(c).)

Consistent with the general principle that lien claimants have the burden of demonstrating the reasonableness of the amounts charged, a lien claimant seeking to establish that it should receive payment at its usual and customary rate, above the level set by the OMFS, must present evidence sufficient to satisfy the requirements of Rule 9792(c). In this case they did not.

Commissioner Frank Brass dissented. He concluded that “These policy considerations still hold true today. Nothing in the changes to Labor Code section 5307.1 suggests that the Legislature intended to alter existing law in order to allow defendants the advantage of the OMFS even when they deny claims for injuries that are later determined to be compensable.”