De-Conflicting Medical Reports

A new Federal rule which would require prescription drug and medical device manufacturers to report what they pay doctors for consultations and speeches is just what the doctor ordered for ERISA insurance claims.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed the rule which will require the gathering of such data on August1, 2013, with the CMS scheduled to release the data on a public web site at the end of September, 2014.

What has this to do with ERISA claims?  Lots!

The purpose of the new rule is so that the public should know what financial relationship the doctor who recommends a drug or treatment has with companies which supply the pharmaceuticals or medical treatment a patient may need.  This transparency allows the patient to have a meaningful discussion with the doctor about what the doctor is prescribing

The whole point, according to CMS, is to reduce the potential for conflict of interest in the doctor- patient relationship. 

Why don’t courts require the same openness in ERISA litigation?  Federal judges are becoming more and more aware of the potential conflict of interest when a physician makes a substantial portion of his or her income from insurance company exams to determine the validity and extent of claimed injuries or illnesses for which his or her insurer would have to pay benefits.

Why not make insurance companies provide a breakdown of all of the monies paid to a doctor to perform so-called “independent medical exams” along with the doctor’s report?  That would give the court, considering whether benefits should be paid to a disabled employee an insight into the credibility of the physician’s report.

Attorneys representing ERISA claimants have been complaining for years that many of the doctors called upon by insurance companies to examine claimants are more interested in continuing to be paid for reports, than they are in giving honest opinions.  If a doctor’s opinions are not heavily in favor of insurers, how long do you think that doctor would continue to get paid for opinions by insurance companies?

The beginning of the end for secrecy about physician track records began with the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Metropolitan Insurance v Glenn, 128 S.Ct.2342 (2008),when the court seemed to wake up to the fact that there is an innate conflict of interest when medical experts are paid by insurance companies to “independently”  evaluate disability claimants.

Why it took so long for the Court to reach this obvious conclusion is anybody’s guess.  Arguably, Glenn opened the door to allow discovery in this area.  But, to be fair to claimants who are suffering not only from their illness or injury, but also from total loss of income when unable to work, much more light should be shone on the insurance company-“independent” medical examiner relationship so Federal District  Courts can properly value the worth of medical reports in ERISA cases.

What better way than to follow the CMS rule and have each doctor whose report is being considered by the court present the details of the financial relationship that doctor has with the insurance company the doctor examined for?

The details should include:

* How many medical exams the doctor performed for insurance companies during the last two years.
* How much money insurance companies paid the doctor for these examinations during the last two years.
* The percentage of these exams in which the doctor found the insured too disabled to work.
* Any other financial arrangement in which the doctor receives any remuneration from the insurance company.

We can’t see the difference between the conflict of interest which may be generated by a physician being paid for “consulting” or “speeches” and being paid for examining claimants.

Both activities affect the insurance company’s bottom line and are therefore suspect.

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