iStock_000000585253Small.jpg

URGENT: Let’s Keep Wisconsin’s Worker’s Compensation System the Best in the Nation!

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation system—established in 1911 and part of the “Wisconsin Idea” in politics—has been in place longer than any other in the country and is the envy of other states. The Governor’s Budget Bill (2015 SB 21) proposes major changes to the structure and substance of Wisconsin’s nationally-recognized worker’s compensation system. The proposal would remove the Worker’s Compensation Division from the Department of Workforce Development and then split up previously integrated components, with the adjudicatory functions (administrative law Judges) moving to the Office of Hearings and Appeals (in DOA) and the regulatory, customer service, and claims management functions going to the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.  Among other significant changes, Judges would be reduced to solely adjudicatory functions, no longer assisting with the law’s administration, and then cross-trained for other legal areas.  The proposals also eliminate the requirement that compromise agreements be approved by ALJs.  The proposed changes could have a hugely negative impact on Wisconsin:

1) Destabilizing effect on insurance carriers, employers, and taxpayers:

Worker’s compensation insurance is a major industry and employer in our state. Total premiums collected for worker’s compensation insurance were approximately 1.75 billion dollars in 2013.  The system as a whole works well for all stakeholders.  Workers generally receive timely benefits with excellent return to work rates.  The system cost to employers is low, as employer premiums have been very stable (rising less than 2.35% on average in the past six years; less than inflation).  Worker’s compensation insurance companies like to do business in our state because of the system’s stability and the corresponding ability to earn profits.  Indeed, at the end of 2014, almost 300 insurance companies writing and competing for worker’s compensation insurance business here.

The worker’s compensation advisory council assists with the system’s stability.  The council is comprised of representatives of labor, management, and the insurance industry, as well as medical provider liaisons.  The council’s agreed-upon changes to the worker’s compensation law, which historically were approved by the legislature, allowed for continual effectiveness and efficiency. 

 The current budget proposal had no input from the advisory council or stakeholders. If the bill passes, the advisory council process is likely over.  Without the council’s steadying process, Wisconsin could face substantial swings in its worker’s compensation law.  Fluctuations in the law will have an immediate impact on the bottom line for insurers, employers, and medical providers. Insurance companies could avoid our state. Employers could face large swings and spikes in premium rate.  Medical providers could see negative impacts on reimbursement rates.

 2) Governmental overreach on a system supported by private business: 

The current Worker’s Compensation Division (at DWD) is not funded by taxpayers; virtually the entire system is funded by assessments from worker’s compensation insurers and self-insured employers.  Thus, private businesses fund the Division, including payment for judges, staff, IT costs, rent, etc.  Along with its payments and the advisory council process, the insurance industry has helped shape the law into its current efficient form.

The Budget Bill suggests that the government has a better handle on the system than those private industries that craft and support it.  The bill proposes no changes in the funding of the system—thus, the worker’s compensation insurance industry will be paying for a soon-to-be inefficient and greater litigious system.  Presumably, the worker’s compensation insurance industry wants to fund staff and judges that have expertise in worker’s compensation—not those “cross-trained” in other areas.  The industry should favor a coherent, integrated system for administering their claims.

Additionally, with a current system that uses virtually 0% taxpayer dollars, the Budget Bill proposal creates an increase in taxpayer costs.  The cost of a “simple” physical move of personnel has to come from somewhere.  There is a huge IT cost—likely in the millions—based on the current system and software of the worker’s compensation division.

3) Less efficiency = Increased claim costs = Increased premiums:

Based on independent studies, Wisconsin workers are paid more quickly and return to work sooner than virtually any other state.  Wisconsin is in the top 10 for lowest cost per worker’s compensation claim.  Wisconsin also has one of the lowest amounts of litigated injuries in the country—with almost 85% of cases resolved without dispute or attorney involvement.  The studies indicate that credit for these positive outcomes is from the efficient administrative process and personnel at the current Division, who actively monitor claims and promote timely reporting and administrative resolution of disputes and concerns. For example, a Judge currently can hold an informal telephone conversation between an injured worker and an insurance company adjuster to resolve a dispute about the appropriate legal payment.

The current proposal is to split up this efficient administrative structure without any rational basis.  The Judges would be spun off into an entirely new agency and separated from the other division personnel.  Private settlements could occur without the valuable Judge oversight and protection.  The efficiency of the administrative system is lost by splitting up the division, and increased litigation is a guarantee.  (As an example, if I want to buy a hot dog, it seems blatantly inefficient to require purchase of hot dog in one place and then the bun in another). 

Without division assistance or oversight, workers will seek counsel.  Litigation will occur over previously-resolvable issues.  Attorneys will litigate the validity of the private settlements.  Increased litigation means increased claims costs, which means increased premiums for employers.  The volume of increased litigation also could force the need for more employees at the new agencies.

 We should maintain our place at the pinnacle of worker’s compensation systems and not look to poor analogies suggested from other states like Florida (comp law declared unconstitutional) or Texas (an opt out system, bringing in the possibility of civil litigation).  The administration’s citation to Illinois’ structure is misplaced as Illinois arbitrators/judges are directly part of the state’s worker’s compensation state agency.

4)  Negative impact on medical providers:

Medical cost payment is currently 2/3 of all payouts in worker’s compensation claims (in 2012, medical providers received almost $600 million total, while worker payments were about $275 million). Under current law, Judges review and approve all compromises, which serves to protect the interests of workers, medical providers, and group health carriers.  The Judges make sure the bills are satisfied.  Logic dictates that private settlements mean more claims will be closed—cost-shifting to medical providers.  Insurers will attempt to settle claims early and for smaller sums of money (like in civil litigation).  More closed claims means that medical bills and treatment that would have been covered within the 12 year statute of limitations by a worker’s compensation insurance company will now be shifted to the worker’s health insurance or none at all.  Thus, medical providers will be accepting lower Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement rates for charges that should have been under worker’s compensation.

 5) Cost-shifting of worker’s compensation system to taxpayers, via Medicaid/Medicare. 

Just as the above, with the allowance for private settlements, we will see an exponential increase in claims being closed sooner than in the past.   A closed claim immediately shifts the costs for future medical care to the worker’s own health insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare.  There is no denying an increase in taxpayer-funded health care costs if the current proposal moves forward.

ACTION IS REQUIRED.  Why “fix” a nationally-recognized system that is not broken?  If you favor the continuation of Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation system, contact your Wisconsin legislators now.

Port_Backup.jpg

Ports of Tacoma and Seattle Urge Immediate PMA-ILWU Contract Resolution

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

The Port of Seattle issued a statement on February 12, 2015 urging the PMA and ILWU to reach a resolution to their contract dispute:

In light of US West Coast ports’ limited activity this weekend, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma continue to press the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union to resolve the impasse in contract negotiations.

The ports do not have a seat at the negotiating table, however we have been exercising the limited options available to try to mitigate impacts on our customers and to keep cargo moving.

We share the frustration of the farmers, manufacturers, retailers, truckers and warehouse and distribution operators, who are suffering collateral damage as they continue to lose billions of dollars and lay off employees.

A lockout or strike would put even more stress on the working people throughout our state who rely on ports for their livelihood.

Taken together, marine cargo operations in Tacoma and Seattle support more than 48,000 jobs across the region and provide a critical gateway for the export of Washington state products to Asia.

This protracted negotiation is resulting in widespread economic damage and will have a lasting impact on our state’s economy.

We risk losing our role as a critical gateway as shippers seek alternatives to West Coast ports.

gCaptain reported on the weekend suspension of cargo loading and unloading at west coast ports, noting that the Pacific Maritime Association said that terminal yard, rail and gate operations at the ports, which handle nearly half of U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of imports from Asia, would go on at the discretion of terminal operators through the weekend.  gCaptain quoted a statement from the PMA: “In light of ongoing union slowdowns up and down the coast which have brought the ports almost to a standstill, PMA member companies finally have concluded that they will no longer continue to pay workers premium pay for diminished productivity.”

gCaptain’s report continued:

Announcement of the weekend suspension came two days after the chief labor negotiator for the companies at the 29 West Coast ports warned that waterfronts that have been plagued by severe cargo congestion in recent months were nearing the point of complete gridlock.

The companies have repeatedly accused the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 20,000 dockworkers, of deliberating orchestrating work slowdowns at the ports to gain leverage in contract negotiations that have dragged on for nine months

The union denies this and faulted the carriers themselves for the congestion, citing numerous changes in shipping practices as contributing factors.

The union also has downplayed the magnitude of the congestion, suggesting that management was exaggerating a crisis as a late-hour negotiation ploy.

Our local West Seattle Blog has been following the (lack of) progress between the PMA and ILWU.  The WSB reported on two days of horrible traffic between West Seattle and downtown, which was caused by a backlog of trucks crowding the surface streets around Terminal 18.  The following day, the traffic had returned to normal.  From an outisder’s perspective, it seemed that the drivers of Seattle had been used as a pawn in the match between PMA and ILWU.

(Photo by James Bratsanos)

nurse.jpg

Why CNAs and Home Health Aides Should Care about the Fight over a Federal Regulation

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

A U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., recently struck down a federal regulation that would mandate that home health aides are paid the minimum wage and paid overtime under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Though the decision will likely be appealed, this decision is still a bad decision for the men and women who do the hardest jobs in health care – home health aides and certified nursing assistants.

Why home health aides aren’t covered by federal wage laws

Home health aides were exempted from the FLSA 40 years ago in order to make caring for the elderly less expensive. However, companion care has become a big and very profitable business. An index of publically traded home-health-care stocks has consistently outperformed the stock market as a whole for the last 13 years. This profitably is due in part to the minimum wage and overtime exemptions for home health aides.

How the home health exception affects other jobs in the medical field

The federal government estimates that nearly 1 million are employed as home health aides, while private sources estimate that number as 2 million. Home health is also a fast-growing field of employment. Home health aides essentially have the same job duties as certified nursing assistants (CNAs). CNAs are generally covered by minimum wage and overtime laws, but workers with the same skills and same duties are exempt from those laws if they are working as home health aides. CNA wages are pushed down by home health aide wages, which are exempt from federal wage laws.

Why pay is about more than wages

A recent study of CNAs showed that nearly 60 percent of CNAs report injuries during a 12-month period. The injury rate is similar for home health aides. The study also showed that higher-paid CNAs were injured less frequently than lower-paid CNAs. The study indicated that organizational factors really drove injury rates among CNAs. In other words, in settings where CNAs are truly valued, paid fairly and trained, the injury rates are lower. But if CNAs are treated as low-wage, high-turnover cogs in a machine, then injury rates are higher. Low pay for CNAs and home health aides isn’t just an issue for employees. Low pay for home health aides and CNAs has been linked to poor patient care.

While the Obama administration has been criticized for being too aggressive in enforcing the FLSA, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that they will delay enforcement of the home health aide regulation until July 2015. This assumes courts will let the Department of Labor actually enforce the regulation. Anyone concerned about this issue should contact their members of Congress to support legislation that ends the home health aide exception. People should also contact their state legislators to support legislation that would ensure that home health aides are covered by state wage and hour laws.

Barking dog could cost Seattle family their home

Today’s post was shared by The Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group and comes from news.yahoo.com

Like bullies and illnesses, lawsuits can be ignored, but they won’t go away. Denise Norton learned this valuable lesson the hard way this week when she found out that a lawsuit she has tried to ignore could wind up costing Norton her North Seattle home.

Her neighbor Woodrow Thompson filed a lawsuit alleging that the sound of barking from Norton’s dog, Cawper, was intentionally causing him “profound emotional distress.” In his detailed, 36-page complaint, Thompson claimed that the canine’s “raucously, wildly bellowing, howling and explosively barking” was capable of reaching 128 decibels. For context, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration — the Labor Department agency tasked with enforcing safe working conditions — says a person should not be exposed to a noise of 115 decibels for more than 15 minutes a day. That said, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Noise Meter, Thompson’s claim would mean that Cawper’s bark is louder than an ambulance siren and just slightly softer than a jet engine at takeoff.

“In my head, everything was so bogus that he’d been doing, I don’t know why, I just didn’t think it was real or something,” Norton told the local ABC News affiliate, KOMO-TV. That’s why, even when she was served with papers, Norton simply didn’t respond.

Unfortunately for Norton, however, the suit was very real, and because…

[Click here to see the rest of this post]

BlueCrossBlueShield.jpg

Medical Procedures: What do they cost?

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Blue Cross Blue Shield has created an online pricing tool to help patients compare prices of about 1,200 non-emergency medical procedures. Patients can now search for the best financial deal for services offered within North Carolina.

 By exposing this previously undisclosed information, patients are now able to go and see services according to the databases average procedure costs. The pricing tool also reveals the most expensive and most affordable option for each procedure.

In order to look up costs and doctors available to preform your procedure, you first access the pricing tool at: http://www.bcbsnc.com/content/providersearch/treatments/index.htm#/ . Then, you enter the treatment or service you would like in the first blank, your current location, and how many miles you are willing to travel for the service. Once you have entered all of this information, you just click search and your results will be immediately displayed. You can organize your results by cost, provider name, or distance.

 

To see the original article by John Murawski in The News and Observer explaining the pricing tool, click below:

http://www.newsobserver.com/2015/01/31/4516241_blue-cross-pricing-tool-could.html#storylink=misearch

teamwork.JPG

File a Workers’ Comp Claim – Get Fired

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

A new study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) indicates trust or mistrust in the work relationship plays a significant role in the outcome of a workers’ compensation claim.  In a recent benchmark study in Iowa by WCRI, almost four out of ten workers interviewed reported they were concerned they would be fired or laid off after they were injured. 

The Iowa study reflects similar results in Wisconsin and other benchmark states.  All workers who were interviewed received workers’ comp benefits and experienced more than a week of lost work time.  Additional findings noted two-thirds of the injured Iowa workers had other health conditions (having smoked for ten years or had diabetes or lung conditions).  Obviously those with significant pre-existing conditions had predictably worse results.

The Human Cost of the Military’s Toxic Burn Pits

Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from medium.com

Today’s post is shared from medium.com and is authored by Matthew Gault.

Jason Dawson joined the Marines in 2003 and went to Iraq in 2006. He deployed to Al Asad air base in Anbar province where he was part of a crash, fire and rescue team.

When his tour finished, he stayed and became a civilian contractor—a firefighter.

He liked the pay and the work, but he didn’t like the burn pits. Al Asad maintained a large, open-air ditch filled with burning garbage. It’s how the base disposed of all its waste.

“Some mornings I remember waking up … and I could smell the burn pits,” he says.

Dawson stayed in Al Asad for three years, and the whole time he dealt with toxic fumes. Since coming home, he’s developed several mysterious health problems doctors can’t seem to diagnose.

Dawson—who is a personal friend—is not alone. Thousands of returning soldiers and civilians reported various health problems after coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many suspect prolonged exposure to the burn pits are the cause.

What didn’t help is that the military’s efforts to clean up the burn pits were half-hearted at best, and negligent at worst. That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

In the report, the congressionally-mandated watchdog details taxpayer cash wasted trying to close the Pentagon’s burn pits.

But worse than the monetary waste is how…

[Click here to see the rest of this post]

last_will_and_testament.jpg

Will Protects Children, Assets, and Helps Prepare for the Unexpected

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Occasionally I write about topics that I think are of use to readers of the firm’s blog. Today’s focus is on a blog post that lawyer Andrew Hoffman wrote about preparing for the unexpected by writing a will.

The blog post was written to promote a new start in 2015 by reflecting on the importance of estate planning. Although estate planning is not a topic that many folks enjoy discussing, I wanted to encourage you to read this blog post from Krotter Hoffman PC, LLO, a law firm in northeast Nebraska. One of the best quotes in the blog post is this one: “The people that can least afford a will (they think), are actually the same people that need it the most – parents of young children.”

Please make the time for a will, even if you don’t think you have much to pass on to loved ones. Because, as Mr. Hoffman goes on to explain, if a person doesn’t have a will, then a judge will decide who takes care of your minor children. And whatever assets you have will also go to those minor children the moment each turns 19, regardless of their ability to manage those funds, which may include life insurance proceeds.

This information is also helpful to workers’ compensation clients or anyone who has received a lump sum settlement to plan for what happens to that money if something happens to you. Please follow up with an attorney to write your will, be safe, and take care. 

Here’s a link to the original blog post:

http://www.krotterhoffman.com/#!A-New-Years-Resolution-Worth-Keeping/cutx/DC0CE14C-2B60-4E65-80F6-82C6560E60F5 titled: A New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping.