This story was updated at 5 p.m. on July 16, 2013.
Claiming delayed and unpaid benefits, career firefighters in Montgomery County want an investigation into the county’s workers’ compensation system.
Montgomery’s career firefighters union, International Association of Firefighters Local 1664, has asked the county Office of the Inspector General to investigate the company that handles the county’s workers compensation cases, California-based CorVel Corp.
It also has asked the County Council to have the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight investigate.
In a July 8 letter to Inspector General Edward L. Blansitt III, the union alleged that firefighters have lost out on medical treatment and benefits and the county has lost out on money because of the company.
Firefighters have experienced delayed medical treatment and benefits, as well as outright refusal of coverage, union President Jeffrey Buddle wrote.
“For some, the delay has caused their medical condition to worsen so dramatically that employees have been forced to retire on service connected disability retirement costing the County hundreds of thousands of dollars in disability retirement benefits,” Buddle wrote.
Blansitt said his office and the Office of Legislative Oversight have been asked to investigate.
As of Monday, Blansitt said he did not know if this was an issue for his office, but there might be answer by week’s end.
The Office of the Inspector General is tasked with reviewing the effectiveness and efficiency of county programs and operations; detecting and preventing fraud, waste, and abuse; and proposing ways to increase the legal, fiscal, and ethical accountability of the county government.
Buddle declined to comment further until Blansitt and the council respond to his request. A request for comment from CorVel had not been returned by The Gazette’s deadline.
This is the first time the county has heard such complaints from the union, said Pam Schroeder, chief of Montgomery County’s Division of Risk Management in the Department of Finance.
“I have never ever heard that; that is a brand new allegation,” she said of Buddle’s claim that a delay in receiving benefits has resulted in employees being force to retire as disabled.
“And it’s one that I take very seriously,” Schroeder said. “Our program philosophy is that if someone is injured, we get them treatment as soon as possible.”
Finance Director Joseph Beach said the county disputes many of Buddle’s claims and will send a letter to the union in response.
One fact the county disputes is that CorVel is a subsidiary of Managed Care Innovations.
Buddle’s letter said the county in 2012 changed contractors for workers’ compensation, but the old company, Gallagher Bassett, and the new company, CorVel, are both part of the same parent group, Managed Care Innovations.
“From that point in time, what was a growing problem became completely unbearable resulting in a complete breakdown of the system,” Buddle wrote.
Schroeder said the three are separate companies. Managed Care Innovation is the county’s general contractor or administrator for the program, while CorVel is the one that cuts the checks, she said.
Since the fall of 2012, CorVel has been before the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission more than 75 times for issues or complaints, Buddle said.
“In our view it is clear that the third party administrator system is in need of a top to bottom review of its practices and procedures that have resulted not only in unnecessary delays in medical care to the employees of Montgomery County Government, but unnecessary expenses to the County as well (in the form of Commission-ordered penalties),” he wrote.
The company, not the county, would pay any penalties charged to CorVel, Schroeder said.