Physicians group wants board created to oversee contract Independent panel favored to set contract on worker compensation

December 18, 1998|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

A statewide organization of occupational physicians is calling for the creation of an independent blue-ribbon panel to set specifications for a new managed-care contract for the state Injured Workers Insurance Fund.

Colleen Weese, who recently was elected president of the Maryland College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, said an independent panel should be put in place before the fund finalizes specifications for the multimillion-dollar contract.

The fund's board, which is appointed by the governor, voted late last month not to extend its contract with the Statutory Management Benefits Corp. Instead it instructed its staff to put the contract up for bids. The $7-million-a-year SBMC contract expires June 30.

An audit report completed this year concluded that the fund failed to follow its own procurement procedures in awarding the contract to SBMC in 1996. Records show that fund officials threw out the bids submitted by a dozen companies shortly after they were submitted and chose instead to negotiate an exclusive contract with SBMC.

Under the contract, SBMC oversees the care provided to workers injured on the job at companies insured by the fund. The fund provides workers' compensation insurance to about 20,000 Maryland businesses.

Weese said members of her organization were "dismayed at the apparent lack of vigor and accountability with which the contract has been bid, negotiated and consummated."

She said that assembling an independent panel of experts would help ensure that "history will not repeat itself."

Weese said her organization was calling for the creation of a "blue-ribbon, interdisciplinary task force comprised of objective, nonconflicted occupational and other health professional experts, [and] academicians," along with representatives of unions and business management.

"We feel that by making this an open, objective, highly professional and participatory process the problems of the past can be avoided," Weese said in a written statement.

Paul M. Rose, the fund's president, said yesterday that he was not aware of the proposal but would welcome input from the physicians group. But Rose also said his staff has begun preparing the specifications in order to meet a Jan. 15 deadline to issue an invitation for interested companies to prepare proposals.

"The process started immediately after the board vote," Rose said.

Daniel McKew, who serves on the fund board and was recently elected chairman, said he did not believe there was enough time to name a blue-ribbon committee and keep the contract selection process on schedule.

"I'm comfortable with the process we have, and anyone is welcome to scrutinize it," he said.

Pub Date: 12/18/98

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