In response, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is surveying the state's health care providers, asking how the agency can make doing business with L&I easier for health care professionals who treat injured workers.
"This is part of L&I's ongoing effort to improve the way it manages the workers' compensation system," Director Paul Trause said. "Our emphasis is on getting injured workers the treatment they need and back to a job they are capable of doing as soon as it is medically appropriate. Access to quality medical care is a key ingredient in that. Delays in treatment can lengthen recovery time and result in longer and costlier claims."
The survey is a more detailed inquiry based on an earlier query of health care providers. In May, L&I sent surveys to 200 orthopedic surgeons and attending physicians, asking them what they value most in dealing with insurers, and how they rate L&I in those areas. Many responded, telling L&I that when they call about a claim they want faster access to a knowledgeable person, quicker authorization of treatment and less paperwork. L&I generally got good marks for the amount it pays physicians for the treatment they provide.
Survey just one part of state's overall strategy
The survey is part of L&I's Recruiting and Retaining Medical Providers Project. The project's goals are to eliminate delays in making claims decisions by making it easier for providers to do business with L&I. It's hoped that the improvements will increase access to quality medical care for injured workers. Beginning in July, L&I also will increase the amount it pays providers to submit forms specific to workplace injury claims.
To improve the quality of medical care, L&I already has established two Centers of Occupational Health Education (COHE) in Spokane and Renton. The centers are designed to promote best practices and to provide a resource for health care professionals who don't routinely treat occupational injuries. The centers have proven so popular L&I is requesting additional funds to expand the services they provide. The additional funding would lay the groundwork for two new COHEs, increase training for doctors and expand the coverage the COHEs provide.
On Jan. 31, the agency also opened the L&I Claims & Account Center, allowing injured workers, their employers and healthcare providers to check on the status of a claim electronically. The online center eliminates the need to call L&I to check on whether a medical procedure has been authorized. By this spring, customers and providers will be able to conduct much of their business with L&I electronically.
Labor and Industries manages a state fund that provides workers' compensation insurance coverage for about 1.9 million workers and 160,000 employers. Approximately 122,000 workplace injury and illness claims are authorized each year. In FY 2004, L&I paid medical bills totaling about $450 million.