In a research report published Tuesday, Florida TaxWatch analyzed California’s IMR process and determined that asking doctors, rather than attorneys and judges, to resolve disputed medical claims could save millions of dollars for Florida’s workers’ compensation system.
California lawmakers authorized IMR in 2012 with the expectation that IMR would reduce workers’ compensation disputes once doctors, attorneys, and other participants came to understand which services could be approved because they meet evidence-based medicine standards. In 2016, the IMRO processed nearly 250,000 applications, a slight decrease from 2015. Of those, 69 percent (172,452) were determined to be eligible for review. Concurrently, 176,002 cases were decided through the IMR process, involving 343,141 treatment request decisions.
In 2016, 167,563 (95.2 percent) of the 176,002 California cases decided using IMR were for applications that listed representation (attorney) for the injured worker. For those cases where the injured worker had representation, the results of the utilization review were upheld in 86.6 percent of the cases. This is similar for those cases where the injured worker did not have representation (84.1 percent).
The reports concludes by saying “California’s successful workers’ compensation reform suggests that replacing Florida’s dispute resolution process with the IMR process used in California might produce similar results in Florida.”
“Anytime you can replace a judicial review process that can take more than six months with a non-judicial review process that can take 30 days or less, it is something to, at least, take a look at,” TaxWatch Vice President for Research Robert G. Nave, one of the report’s authors, told Watchdog.org Wednesday.
An IMR process could reduce the average time to resolve workers’ comp disputes in Florida from 231 days to about 30, as it has in California, the nonpartisan, nonprofit government fiscal monitor claims in its analysis.
According to the report, adopting an IMR process could save Florida businesses $22.6 million annually and, more importantly, dramatically reduce, if not eliminate, attorney fees – which amounted to more than $400 million during the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Taxwatch’s analysis suggests the state could trim back or potentially even eliminate the 31 administrative judges in its Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims, which has annual $13.3 million budget.
More than 30 percent of reviewed California cases in 2016 involved opioid prescriptions with doctors approving access only 9.5 percent of the time. “Treatment providers who consistently prescribe opioids contrary to the established best practices governing the use of opioids run a greater risk of identification as a result of IMR,” the TaxWatch analysis says.
“If the state policymakers want to continue to grow Florida’s economy,” TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said in the report’s introduction, “it is imperative that the Legislature take the IMR process into consideration.”
Such a proposal is certain to be resisted by the Florida Justice Association, which represents trial lawyers and has opposed attempts to cap attorney’s fees in the past.