Maine’s Fee Schedule: Down the Rabbit Hole

March 23rd, 2010 by

Three months ago we blogged the ongoing agony of Bath Iron Works (BIW), the people who build destroyers for the navy. You may recall that BIW self insures for workers comp, and as such must pay the “usual and customary” fees for medical services provided to injured workers. There are only two categories of payers who are stuck with usual and customary fees: self insureds and uninsureds. BIW has been waiting 18 years for Maine to come up with a fee schedule. Eighteen years! The Board in charge of developing the fee schedule is asking for…a little more time.
So what’s the problem? Paul Dionne, the Chairman of the Maine Workers Comp Board – the board responsible for developing the fee schedule – is also board chairman of Central Maine Healthcare Corporation – which stands to lose a lot of money once the fee schedule is implemented. Dionne is compensated by the comp board and by Central Maine Healthcare. If he were really candid, he might admit that his idea of a fee schedule is “usual and customary” fees. Dionne claims they are really getting close to the point where they will be able to issue a draft fee schedule for public comment.
Timely Remedies?
As reported by Lindsay Tice in the Lewiston Sun Journal, BIW has filed suit, claiming that Dionne has a conflict of interest. This is their second lawsuit. Back in 2006 they sued the board for its (then) 14 year failure to implement a fee schedule. The judge sided with BIW and ordered the board to create the fee schedule. Four years later…well, you get the drift (and I do mean drift!).
Dionne has consulted with an attorney, who advised him that there was a “potential” for a conflict of interest. (Brilliant work, counsel!) Dionne is seeking a second opinion from the board’s general counsel. Here’s a second opinion: it’s a conflict of interest!!!
Dionne claims that, if necessary, he will fully disclose his personal interests, as he has done in the past. Sure, Paul. The foxes are promising better management of the chicken coop. Foxes love chickens. They are very committed to raising the “usual and customary” chickens, fat and healthy.
Start Over?
The sheer passage of time, now approaching two full decades, has compromised the Maine fee schedule beyond recognition. It has become an embarassment. It’s unlikely that any fee schedule issued by this board will be credible. Perhaps it’s time to create a truly independent body to develop the fee schedule. The bad news for BIW is that this would further delay the regulatory relief they have long sought. The good news is that the fee schedule might actually lower the fees.
During this prolonged process, BIW has tumbled down the rabbit hole, Maine version, into a world where nothing is quite what it seems. BIW – in the unlikely role of Alice, meets a cheshire cat, with a grin like Paul Dionne’s:

`Cheshire Puss, …Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
`–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’