(a) In addition to the compensation provided in this article and Article 4 of this chapter, the employer, where applicable, shall pay the actual cost of the repair, refitting, or replacement of artificial members damaged as the result of an accident arising out of and in the course of employment, and the employer, except as otherwise provided in this amendatory act, shall pay an amount not to exceed the prevailing rate or maximum schedule of fees as established herein of reasonably necessary medical and surgical treatment and attention, physical rehabilitation, medicine, medical and surgical supplies, crutches, artificial members, and other apparatus as the result of an accident arising out of and in the course of the employment, as may be obtained by the injured employee or, in case of death, obtained during the period occurring between the time of the injury and the employee's death therefrom. If the employee is dissatisfied with the initial treating physician selected by the employer and if further treatment is required, the employee may so advise the employer, and the employee shall be entitled to select a second physician from a panel or list of four physicians selected by the employer. If surgery is required and if the employee is dissatisfied with the designated surgeon, he or she may so advise the employer, and the employee shall be entitled to select a second surgeon from a panel or list of four surgeons selected by the employer. If four physicians or surgeons are not available to be listed, the employer shall include on the list as many as are available. The four physicians or surgeons selected by the employer hereunder shall not be from or members of the same firm, partnership, or professional corporation. The total liability of the employer shall, unless otherwise provided in this chapter, not exceed the prevailing rate or the maximum schedule of fees as established herein. Notwithstanding the foregoing, in ascertaining the prevailing rate of reimbursement or payment with regard to participating hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers or outpatient rehabilitation centers licensed by the State of Alabama, as well as diagnostic facilities accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, the prevailing rate shall be negotiated with each individual hospital, ambulatory surgical center, licensed outpatient rehabilitation facility, or diagnostic facility based on that institution's treatment of comparable type cases for the 12-month period immediately preceding August 1, 1992. These rates shall be updated every 12 months thereafter. Initial rates shall be established within six months of August 1, 1992. For those non-participating hospitals the prevailing rate shall be determined by a committee. In the first year following August 1, 1992, the committee shall be composed of five members. The secretary shall appoint one member from the Department of Labor and two members from the community in which the non-participating hospital is located. The non-participating hospital shall appoint two members. This committee shall by a majority vote establish the maximum rates of reimbursement or payment for the non-participating hospital, and the hospital shall be bound for one year by the determined rates of reimbursement or payment for workers' compensation cases. If, following the first year after the rates were established by this committee, the hospital is again non-participating, then another committee shall be appointed. This second committee shall have three members selected by the non-participating hospital and two members selected by the secretary. The committee composition shall alternate as above described each year the hospital is non-participating. The total liability of the employer shall not exceed the rates established by the committee. This committee, in determining the rates of reimbursement or payments to the hospital, may consider such factors as the size, staffing, and medical equipment of the hospital, and any other factors which the committee may consider relevant. If an insurer of the employee or a benefit association has paid or is liable for the employee's medical, surgical, and hospital service or for a part thereof, or if the employee is entitled to the same or a part thereof, from any source whatever by virtue of any agreement or understanding or law, state or federal, without any loss of benefit to the employee, the employer shall not be required to pay any part of the expense. If the benefits are insufficient to pay all the employee's expense, the employer shall be liable for the deficiency only. All cases of dispute as to the necessity and value of the services shall be determined by the tribunal having jurisdiction of the claim of the injured employee for compensation.
(b) If requested to do so by the employer, the injured employee shall submit to examination by the employer's physician at all reasonable times, but the employee shall have the right to have a physician of his or her own selection present at the examination, in which case the employee shall be liable to the physician of his or her own selection for his or her services. The employer shall pay for the services of the physician making the examination at the instance of the employer. If a dispute arises as to the injury, or as to the extent of the disability therefrom, the court may, at the instance of either party or of its own motion, appoint a neutral physician of good standing and ability to make an examination of the injured employee and to report his or her findings to the court, the expense of which examination shall be borne equally by the parties. If the injured employee refuses to comply with reasonable request for examination, or refuses to accept the medical service or physical rehabilitation, which the employer elects to furnish under this chapter, the employee's right to compensation shall be suspended and no compensation shall be payable for the period of the refusal. A physician whose services are furnished or paid for by the employer, or a physician of the injured employee who treats or makes or is present at any examination of an injured employee may be required to testify as to any knowledge obtained by him or her in the course of the treatment or examination as the treatment or examination related to the injury or the disability arising therefrom. The physician shall, upon written request of the injured employee or his or her employer and without consent of or notice to the employee or employer not making the request, furnish the injured employee or his or her employer a written statement of his or her professional opinion as to the extent of the injury and disability. In all death claims where the cause of death is obscure or is disputed, any interested party may require an autopsy, the cost of which is to be borne by the party demanding the autopsy. The term "physicians" shall include medical doctor, surgeon, and chiropractor. A hospital, medical clinic, rehabilitation service, or other person or entity providing treatment to an employee or providing facilities at which the employee receives treatment shall, upon the written request of the employee or of the employer, furnish, at a reasonable cost, the employee or the employer a copy of the records, including X-rays and laboratory reports, relating to the treatment of the injured employee. The copy may be furnished without the consent of or notice to the employee or employer not making the request. A physician, hospital, medical clinic, rehabilitation service, or other person or entity providing written statement of professional opinion or copies of records pursuant to this subsection shall not be liable to any person for a claim arising out of the release of medical information concerning the employee.
(c) If the employer so elects, the employee shall submit to and undergo vocational rehabilitation at the employer's expense through a vocational rehabilitation specialist, who shall be qualified to render competent vocational rehabilitation service. If an employee who is unable in the opinion of the treating physician to return to his or her former employment shall request vocational rehabilitation and if both a vocational rehabilitation specialist and a treating physician, the cost of whose service is the obligation of the employer under this section, shall express their opinions in writing that in the judgment of each of them vocational rehabilitation is reasonably calculated to restore the employee to gainful employment and is in the best interest of the employee, the cost of the rehabilitation shall be borne by the employer. The cost, where rehabilitation requires residence at or near a facility or institution away from the employee's customary residence, shall include reasonable charges for the employee's necessary board, lodging, and travel.
(d) If an employee refuses, without the consent of the court, to accept vocational rehabilitation at the employer's request, the refusal shall result in loss of compensation for the period of refusal.
(e) All disputes with regard to vocational rehabilitation may be submitted to the court for resolution.
(f) The employer shall pay mileage costs to and from medical and rehabilitation providers at the same rate as provided by law for official state travel.
(g) In a compensable workers' compensation claim, the injured employee shall not be liable for payment of any authorized and compensable medical expenses associated with the workers' compensation claim.
(h) All undisputed medical reimbursements or payments shall be made within 25 working days of receipt of claims in the form specified in Section 25-5-3. There shall be added to any undisputed medical invoice which is not paid within 25 working days an amount equal to 10 percent of the unpaid balance.
If the employer or insurer responsible for payment of the claim fails to add the additional 10 percent to the claim as required by this section, the person, firm, corporation, or partnership providing the medical service for which payment has been delayed beyond the period specified in this section may file a written complaint stating that fact with the secretary. Upon investigation, if the secretary determines that the facts stated in the complaint are true, then in that event the secretary shall order the employer or insurer to pay to the provider the amount of the claim and any applicable penalty, and in addition may assess a civil monetary penalty in amount not to exceed $500 against the employer or insurer, payment of which shall be made to the secretary within 30 days of the notice of assessment.
(i) Any party, including a health care provider, is entitled to a review by an ombudsman of medical services that are provided or for which authorization of payment is sought if any party or the health care provider has any of the following:
(1) Been denied payment or had the charge reduced for medical services rendered.
(2) Been denied authorization for the payment of services requested or performed when authorization is required.
(3) Been ordered by the secretary to refund payments received for the provision of medical services.
(4) A party to a medical dispute that remains unresolved after a review of medical services as provided by this section may petition the court for relief.
(5) In any review under this subsection of medical services provided by a physician, any party to a dispute may request that the ombudsman consult with an independent medical expert for the purpose of obtaining advice and consultation on the resolution of any issue involving medical practice. If such a request is made, the ombudsman shall select an independent medical expert from among a list of at least three names provided by the Workers' Compensation Medical Services Board in a medical specialty appropriate to the issues raised in the dispute and shall secure a written opinion from the independent medical expert. In rendering a decision or recommendation, the ombudsman shall give full consideration to the opinion of the independent medical expert but shall not be bound by that opinion. The independent medical expert shall be compensated at a rate set by the Workers' Compensation Medical Services Board and approved by the secretary.