Updated Guidance on Navigating Second Opinions
Amended Full Commission Decision Provides Updated Guidance on Navigating Requests for Second Opinions and Clarifies the Issue of Payment Under the Fee Schedule
A long-standing issue under the Workers’ Compensation Act has been second opinions on treatment options under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-25(b). The parties have frequently been at odds over whether defendants must 1) issue a prepayment for that visit and 2) pay beyond the NCIC fee schedule amount for the visit. Many administrative motions on the issue have ensued over the years. In May of 2202, the Full Commission issued a non-binding decision, Wyatt v. The Golden Mint, Inc., I.C. No. 20-038523 (May 2022), holding that:
- Defendants did not need to pay any kind of prepayment for a second opinion under N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-25(b);
- Defendants did not need to pay beyond the fee schedule for that visit; and
- The fee schedule amount for a N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-25(b) second opinion is $301.23, based on CPT code 99456.
You can find my partner Matt Marriott’s more extensive write up on that decision here. Following the Wyatt decision, Plaintiff filed Plaintiff’s Motion to Reconsider the Opinion and Award Issued on May 12, 2022 and Request for Additional Findings. While Plaintiff’s Motion was pending, the Commission, during its annual publishing of the Medical Fee Schedule Tables for 2022, identified inaccuracies in the fee schedule tables and corrected the inaccuracies in line with the requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-26 and Subchapter J of the Industrial Commission’s rules. These changes removed the CPT Cod 99456 for second opinions and replaced it with UCR or Pay Per Agreement. UCR stands for usual, customary, and reasonable. Thereafter Plaintiff filed Plaintiff’s Supplement to Plaintiff’s Motion to Reconsider the Opinion and Award Issued on May 12, 2022 and Request for Additional Findings and pointed to the changes to the second opinion code to reflect “UCR or Pay Per Agreement” and noted that it no longer had a specific monetary amount. Plaintiff asserted that per the updated fee schedule, the second opinion fee would now be what was usual and customary.
The Full Commission, in amending its Opinion and Award to find that the Medical Fee Schedule sets the maximum fee allowable by a physician conducting a 97-25(b) second opinion examination at “UCR or Pay Per Agreement”, found that Plaintiff was entitled to have Defendants pay his selected 97-25(b) expert or any other provider the usual, customary, and reasonable charge for such a provider in such a circumstance or a rate agreed upon by the physician and the parties. The Full Commission also noted that Defendants did not need to make prepayment, but that any motions or requests for a specific prior approval to charge “shall” be submitted to the Commission for each charge. Based on the facts in Wyatt, the Full Commission declined to grant Plaintiff’s request for approval of his specific physician’s fee, indicating there was insufficient evidence to show that plaintiff’s provider’s fee was reasonable; the Act specified that providers not be paid for services prior to the rending of services and said report; that the Commission had the responsibility of assuring medical and related expenses be kept within reasonable and appropriate limits; and the routine nature of the request for a 97-25(b) second opinion examination.
Practice Pointers and Takeaways
As we have noted, a Full Commission decision is not binding case law like a decision from the North Carolina Court of Appeals or Supreme Court would be. However, it does set the tone for how the Commission will likely be deciding these matters going forward. Thus, given the change to the Medical Fee Schedule, carriers and employers should assume they will be ordered to pay the usual, customary, and reasonable charges associated with second opinions under N.C. Gen. Stat. §97-25(b). However, since Defendants will be paying the usual, customary, and reasonable charges going forward, and the parties are encouraged to agree on the provider per the statute, there may be an argument that all else being equal, the provider with the lowest charge should be the provider chosen, in line with the responsibility of the Commission to keep medical and related expenses within reasonable and appropriate limits.
Additionally, Employers and Carriers should expect to see more administrative motions on the issue of prepayment under N.C. Gen. Stat. §97-90(a). In responding to these motions, evidence regarding the usual, customary, and reasonable charges will likely be key, and a failure to provide the same by one side, may result in an adverse decision. A reasonable alternative to motions on the prepayment issue may be suggesting that Plaintiff pay the prepayment upfront with Defendants issuing the full charge upon receipt of the report.