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IN THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA
1999 MTWCC 34
WCC No. 9809-8065
STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND
STATE OF MONTANA
Summary: Claimant seeks compensation for 56 chiropractic adjustments over 9 month period, all incurred after insurer informed him it would no longer cover chiropractic treatment for him. Persuasive medical evidence, along with statements made by claimant, indicate claimant had reached maximum medical healing and the chiropractic treatments were maintenance treatments, not actually leading to improvement in claimant.
Held: Under section 39-71-704, MCA (1993), the insurer is responsible for primary and secondary medical services as defined in the statute. Under the circumstances of this case, and where claimant had already reached maximum medical healing, the chiropractic treatments were not primary medical services. Under the statute, the insurer was liable for secondary medical services only upon a clear demonstration of cost effectiveness of the services in returning the injured worker to actual employment. Claimant did not make this demonstration. Indeed, the evidence showed the treatments provided no more than temporary relief and did not improve his condition.
¶1 The trial in this matter was held on February 22, 1999, in Helena, Montana. Petitioner, Eugene Thirsk (claimant), was present and represented by Mr. Richard J. Pyfer. Respondent, State Compensation Insurance Fund (State Fund), was represented by Ms. Carrie L. Garber.
¶2 Exhibits: Exhibits 1 and 2 were admitted without objection. Exhibit 2 consists of Exhibits 1 through16 as prepared for trial in a prior action, WCC No. 9712-7885.
¶3 Witnesses and Depositions: Claimant and Thomas Fritch were sworn and testified. The parties also submitted the depositions of Catherine Capps, M.D. and Mike H. Pardis, D.C.
¶4 Issues Presented: As set forth in the Pretrial Order, the following issues are presented for decision:
¶5 Having considered the Pretrial Order, the testimony presented at trial, the demeanor and credibility of the witnesses, the depositions and exhibits, and the arguments of the parties, the Court makes the following:
¶6 On April 4, 1994, claimant suffered an industrial injury to his low back while employed by the Montana Department of Revenue. The injury occurred as claimant lifted and turned while carrying a mail tray.
¶7 At the time of the injury, the Department of Revenue was insured by the State Fund. The State Fund accepted liability and paid claimant medical and wage-loss benefits.
¶8 Following his injury, claimant sought chiropractic care from Mike H. Pardis, D.C., beginning in May 1994, and continuing until June 1996.
¶9 In August 1995, the State Fund requested Gary P. Blom, D.C., to review Dr. Pardis' treatment. Dr. Blom reviewed Dr. Pardis' records. On August 22, 1995, he wrote that in his opinion the claimant's condition was "ongoing and non-progressive." (Ex. 6.) Additionally, he stated, "I do not feel that continued ongoing manipulation is going to provide him with any significant overall net improvement at this point . . ." (Id.)
¶10 On September 22, 1995, Dr. Timothy Browne, an orthopedic surgeon, examined claimant at the request of the State Fund. Dr. Browne recorded that claimant reported "chiropractic manipulation is really not helping." (Ex. 7 at 84.) He found claimant to be at maximum medical improvement as of September 22, 1995. (Id. at 87.)
¶11 As part of his evaluation, Dr. Browne was asked by the State Fund whether he thought continued chiropractic was reasonable and necessary. In response he wrote:
(Id. at 86.)
¶12 Relying on the opinions of Drs. Browne and Blom, in October 1995, the State Fund notified claimant that it would no longer cover the costs of his chiropractic treatment. (Ex. 11 at 145, Ex. 2-11 at 145.)
¶13 Claimant, however, continued to treat with Dr. Pardis and now seeks reimbursement for those treatments. The treatments at issue are as follows:
(Ex. 2-16 at 224-225.)
¶14 Claimant testified that Dr. Pardis' care helped his back condition by relieving his pain. He felt his condition was improving as a result of the treatments. However, on cross-examination he acknowledged that his pain was continuous and that the relief he received was temporary. He conceded that the pain returned if he did not keep up with regular therapy prescribed by Dr. Pardis.
¶15 Throughout the period that claimant was treated by Dr. Pardis, he related constant, moderate low-back pain. Dr. Pardis testified that although claimant continued to complain of constant pain, he had objective findings of improvement. (Pardis Dep. at 20.) He stated that while he did not expect the claimant's condition to recover to preinjury status, it was his opinion that continued treatment was necessary because claimant's condition had not reached a point of stabilization. (Id. at 22.)
¶16 When questioned about the nature of his treatment, Dr. Pardis testified:
(Id. at 41.)
¶17 Dr. Pardis' opinions are unpersuasive. In addition to the opinions of Dr. Blom and Dr. Browne, the State Fund presented additional evidence supporting its contention that the care provided by Dr. Pardis after August 1995 was maintenance care and did not improve claimant's condition.
¶18 On January 10, 1996, claimant was seen by Dr. Kenneth V. Carpenter upon the referral of Dr. Pardis. Dr. Carpenter, an orthopedic surgeon, noted that the claimant reported temporary relief with the manipulative chiropractic therapy but that he was having continuing problems with his lower back. (Ex. 3 at 32.) Based upon his examination, Dr. Carpenter referred claimant to a pain management consultant. (Id. at 34.)
¶19 Claimant was thereafter seen on June 11, 1996, by Dr. Ronald K. Hull, a pain management consultant. Claimant reported to Dr. Hull that over time his back pain had worsened considerably. (Ex. 9 at 97.) Claimant also told Dr. Hull that the chiropractic treatments he had received had "really not helped a lot." (Id. at 98.)
¶20 Dr. Catherine C. Capps, another orthopedic surgeon, also performed an independent medical examination at the State Fund's request. In her report, Dr. Capps opined:
(Ex. 8 at 93.) Dr. Capps testified by deposition. It was her opinion that Dr. Pardis' care was not therapeutic. (Capps' Dep. at 5-7.) She testified that the relief provided by the chiropractic care was very short term and did not help his overall condition. (Id. at 7.)
¶21 I find that Dr. Pardis' treatments after August 1995 were maintenance treatments. As noted in paragraph 17, Dr. Pardis' opinions were unpersuasive in the face of other medical opinions indicating that the care he provided was maintenance in nature and did not improve claimant's condition. Claimant's own contemporaneous reports that his condition was not improving despite Dr. Pardis' treatments lends support to those opinions. Finally, the number of treatments in December 1995 to May 1996, which constitute the bulk of treatments for which claimant seeks reimbursement, argue against any finding that they improved claimant's condition. As set forth in paragraph 13, claimant received 12 treatments in December and 13 treatments in January. On the average he was treated every 2 and a half days, including weekends. Excluding weekends, the average is approximately every 1 3/4 days during the two months. The average for February through May (29 treatments over 119 days) is a bit better, amounting to a treatment approximately every 4 days, including weekends, but the frequency is still indicative that the treatments provided no long-term relief.
¶22 The State Fund's denial of reimbursement for Dr. Pardis' treatments was reasonable.
¶23 Claimant's industrial injury occurred on April 4, 1994. His claim is governed by the 1993 version of the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA). Buckman v. Montana Deaconess Hosp., 224 Mont. 318, 321, 730 P.2d 380, 382 (1986).
¶24 Claimant has the burden of proving that he is entitled to workers' compensation benefits by a preponderance of the probative, credible evidence. Ricks v. Teslow Consolidated, 162 Mont. 469, 512 P.2d 13045 (1973); Dumont v. Wicken Bros. Construction Co., 183 Mont. 190, 598 P.2d 1099 (1979).
¶25 The insurer's obligation for payment of medical expenses is governed by section 39-71-704, MCA (1993), which provides in relevant part:
"Primary medical services" are defined in section 39-71-116(21), MCA (1993), as follows:
"Secondary medical services" are defined:
§ 39-71-116(25), MCA (1993).
¶26 A preponderance of medical evidence establishes that claimant was at maximum medical improvement by August 1995. Dr. Pardis' treatments thereafter were secondary medical services. The State Fund was liable for his services "only upon a clear demonstration of cost-effectiveness of the services in returning the injured worker to actual employment." § 39-71-704(1)(b), MCA (1993). Claimant has failed to sustain that burden. There is no evidence that the treatments were necessary to return him to work or that they were cost-effective. To the contrary, the evidence presented shows that the treatments provided only temporary relief and did not improve his condition.
¶27 The Court need not consider nor apply the Department of Labor and Industry's rules governing chiropractic care. Those rules, found at ARM 24.29.2003 and .2004, were promulgated long before the legislature adopted the primary-secondary medical services standard found in section 39-71-704, MCA (1993). In any event, based on the Court's findings of fact, under the rules Dr. Pardis' care would be considered non-covered maintenance care ARM 24.29.2004; Synek v. State Compensation Ins. Fund, 272 Mont. 246, 900 P.2d 884 (1995).
¶28 The claimant is not entitled to attorney fees, costs, or a penalty since he has not prevailed in this action and, in any event, has failed to demonstrate that the State Fund acted unreasonably. §§ 39-71-611, -612, -2907, MCA.
¶29 1. The claimant is not entitled to payment for chiropractic care. His petition is dismissed with prejudice.
¶30 Claimant is not entitled to attorney fees, costs, or a penalty.
¶31 3. This JUDGMENT is certified as final for purposes of appeal pursuant to ARM 24.5.348.
¶32 4. Any party to this dispute may have 20 days in which to request a rehearing from these Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment.
DATED in Helena, Montana, this 11th day of May, 1999.
c: Mr. Richard J. Pyfer
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