BIW requests receiver for workers’ comp board

Posted April 14, 2010, at 10:19 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — One of Maine’s largest employers is asking Superior Court to appoint a receiver for the state Workers’ Compensation Board, saying it has failed to adopt a legally required medical fee schedule and that its chairman is in conflict due to his connection to Maine hospitals.

But an attorney for the board, responding Wednesday to the complaint filed by Bath Iron Works, said it has completed “90 percent” of the work needed to adopt the fees and rejected the assertion about Chairman Paul Dionne, who also serves as executive director.

In its March 18 complaint, defense contractor Bath Iron Works says the workers’ comp board failed to comply with a 17-year-old state law requiring it to set a schedule of fees for what third-party payers pay hospitals for worker injuries, yet the company and other businesses affected by the delay “are essentially at square one.”

The suit cited cases showing that due to the absence of fees, costs are shifted away from hospitals to businesses and the workers’ comp system.

“Discriminatory cost shifting has been allowed to run rampant in violation of legislative intent,” the suit claims. Maine’s workers’ comp system was reformed in 1992, a year after a shutdown of state government that resulted from a long and bitter legislative fight over the issue.

The suit also claims that the comp board’s Dionne, as chairman of Central Maine Healthcare, the parent company of several Maine hospitals, is in a position to be in conflict of interest.

“It is simply incomprehensible that Mr. Dionne does not consider his position of chairman of the board of Central Maine Healthcare as incompatible with his public duty to enact an appropriate fee schedule that would be to the economic detriment of the very hospitals to which he owes a fiduciary obligation,” the suit claims.

A message left for Dionne, who was not in the comp board office Wednesday, was not immediately returned. But John Rohde, general counsel for the board, said that claim is meritless. The state Attorney General’s Office, asked to assess Dionne’s role in 2008, said no conflict existed.

Rohde also said the board is ready to adopt a proposed set of fee rules, but final approval was held up by challenges and requests for additional information by Bath Iron Works and other parties.

“The delays that have occurred are the result of action by the plaintiffs,” said Rohde, adding that the board is “90 percent of the way” toward adopting a medical facilities fee schedule.

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