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9 PERCENT RAISE IN FEES OK’D FOR DOCTORS WHO TREAT INJURED WORKERS

SHARE 9 PERCENT RAISE IN FEES OK’D FOR DOCTORS WHO TREAT INJURED WORKERS

Doctors providing health care to injured workers under the state's workmen's compensation law are getting a 9 percent fee increase effective Jan. 1, 1990.

The State Industrial Commission approved the increase but rejected a 14 percent increase suggested by its Medical Advisory Committee. The three commissioners said the 14 percent increase was too much for people to swallow in one bite.During the commission's Wednesday meeting, Chairman Stephen M. Hadley said the increase must go through the state rule-making procedure and probably will become effective Jan. 1. Dr. Boyd G. Holbrook, committee chairman, had hoped the increase would be effective Oct. 1.

The 9 percent increase appeared to be a compromise between the 14 percent recommended by the committee and suggestions that health-care costs are too high now and that studies should be conducted on how they can be lowered instead of raised.

According to a memorandum prepared by Holbrook, the fees are established through a conversion table, and the conversion factor for anesthesiologists was raised 20 percent effective March 1, 1989. It had been 3 1/2 years since the conversion factors were adopted.

"Fees should be reasonably related to the cost of the practice in a given area. Physician fees in Utah are undervalued as compared to the surrounding states and very much undervalued as compared to most of the rest of the country. The industrial schedule cannot be expected to make up for this low schedule, but should not contribute to further lowering of medical fees in Utah," Holbrook's memorandum said.

Holbrook said the take-home pay of most employees hasn't increased much in recent years, but they have several items that are included in their total remuneration package. They are merit pay, advancement in grade, one-time bonuses, increase in contribution to their retirement program, increases to their medical programs, vacation, sick leave, family emergencies and child care.

"The physicians do not benefit from any such additional funding and make all of these payments themselves from their net income," said Holbrook.

Larry Bunkall, Utah Manufacturers Association president, said because there will be significant increases in several premiums in 1990, the commission should examine all of the increases because employers will be paying more

Jinks Dabney, an attorney who represents injured workers before the commission, said he is concerned about the overall impact that an increase in medical fees will bring. He said an injured worker gets only two-thirds of his regular salary while injured, but their bills don't increase by one-third.

"Because approximately 70 percent of the workers compensation dollar goes to medical providers, and workers for many years complained and continue to complain about the minimal compensation rates for payments that they receive while off work, it is my opinion that this increase, although perhaps necessary, should be coupled with a similar increase in compensation rates," Dabney said.

Dr. Brian Moench, an anesthesiologist, said physicians are taking home less pay today than they did several years ago. One of the reasons for this, he said, is the tremendous increase in malpractice insurance premiums.