Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Avoiding An Improper Consultative Exam

In the vast majority of cases, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) insists that disability claimants attend a consultative examination (“CE”), which is performed by a doctor selected by the SSA. However, the SSA rules and regulations require that the claimant’s treating doctor perform a CE subject to a few exceptions. The exception that the SSA usually relies upon as grounds for a CE is that the treating doctor’s opinion or report contains conflicts, gaps or inconsistencies. Before the SSA or an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) can ask a claimant to attend a CE by a non-treating doctor on the grounds that the treating doctor’s opinion or report contains conflicts, gaps or inconsistencies, the ALJ must first recontact the treating doctor to explain the perceived conflict, gap or inconsistency.

I represent a former police officer whose arthritis specialist and orthopedist provided reports describing why their patient’s condition prevented him from working in any capacity. ALJ Weiss insisted that the officer attend a CE by an “independent” orthopedist because of alleged conflicts and inconsistencies in the medical reports, but I insisted that the ALJ first recontact the treating doctors in accordance with the regulations. ALJ Weiss then denied the officer’s application on the grounds that the officer lacked good cause for refusing to attend the CE.

After filing a complaint in federal court, the SSA admitted that the officer had good cause for refusing to attend the “independent” CE, and that it was improper to penalize the officer for refusing to attend it. The SSA asked the officer to remand the case, and would require the ALJ to recontact the treating doctors to clarify or provide additional information to resolve the perceived conflicts and inconsistencies in their reports. The SSA also agreed that the Appeals Council remand order will direct the ALJ to issue a decision on the merits of the case even if the officer refuses to attend an independent CE without good cause.

The SSA’s remand offer confirms that a treating source is the preferred source for performing a CE. The SSA’s remand offer also confirms that it cannot ask an “independent” doctor to perform a CE unless the treating source is given the chance to explain any alleged conflict, gap or inconsistency. Finally, the SSA’s remand offer shows that a claimant has good cause, and cannot be penalized, for refusing to attend a CE that fails to comply with the SSA’s rules and regulations.

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