Category Archives: Government

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Alternatives to Workers’ Comp: Paranoia or Possibility

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

I joined a national organization of lawyers representing injured workers (the Work Injury Law and Advocacy Group) twenty years ago when it was first formed. Then, I heard horror stories about legislators messing with an otherwise stable workers’ compensation system after every election cycle. My colleagues in other states were constantly fighting battles over workers’ compensation “deform.” 

I thought we were insulated in Wisconsin because we had a workers’ compensation advisory council composed of labor and management who every two years fought out a compromise bill and submitted it to the legislature, which automatically rubber-stamped the proposed bill without changes. That changed in Wisconsin in 2014. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the Republican legislature rejected the “agreed upon” bill proposed by the workers’ compensation advisory council, despite the approval of the bill by management members.

Governor Scott Walker’s most recent budget contains a provision to dismantle the workers’ compensation system as we know it. Those of us representing injured workers (and those rational members on the management side) are busy lobbying to remove the workers’ compensation dismantling provisions from the budget.

It is no secret that many major corporations dislike workers’ compensation, despite statistics indicating premiums are at their lowest for employers, and profits at their highest for insurers. However, nearly two dozen major corporations including Wal-Mart, Nordstrom’s and Safeway are behind a multi-state lobbying effort to make it harder for workers hurt on the job to collect workers’ compensation benefits. The companies have financed a lobbying group the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC) that has already helped write legislation designed to have employers “opt out” of a State workers’ compensation system. ARAWC has already helped write legislation in Tennessee. That group’s executive director Richard Evans told an insurance journal in November that the corporations ultimately want to change workers’ compensation laws in all fifty states. Lowe’s, Macy’s, Kohl’s, SYSCO Food Services, and several insurance companies are also part of the effort. The mission of ARAWC is to pass laws allowing private employers to opt out of the traditional workers’ compensation plans that almost every state requires businesses to carry. Employers who opt out would still be compelled to purchase workers’ compensation plans, but would be allowed to write their own rules governing when, for how long, and for which reasons an injured employee can receive medical benefits and wages. Two states, Texas and Oklahoma, already allow employers to opt out of State-mandated workers’ comp. In that state, for example, Wal-Mart has written a plan that allows the company to select the physician and the arbitration company that hears disputes. A 2012 survey of Texas companies with private plans found that less half the companies offered benefits to seriously injured employees or the families of workers who died in workplace accidents. 

Oklahoma passed an opt out measure in January 2014 and the oil and gas industry along with major retailers such as Hobby Lobby pushed hard for the change. ARAWC wants to take that Texas and Oklahoma model nationwide. Seeing the workers’ compensation provision in Wisconsin’s budget bill as part of this overall “scheme” may seem paranoid, but the history of recent “deform” legislation suggest the connection is at least a possibility. 

See the complete article at http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/arawc-walmart-campaign-against-workers-compensation.

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Let’s Think About Medical Marijuana for Injured Workers

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

Nebraska, known for its conservative views, is considering legalization of medical marijuana. Sen. Tommy Garrett writes a passionate, persuasive and practical letter to constituents in support of medical marijuana. 

“Bottom line up front: The Cannabis Compassion and Care Act (LB643) is all about making life better for Nebraskans who are sick and ailing. Period! Nothing more … nothing less. This is entirely about helping very sick people in need who deserve the right to a medication that treats their illnesses.” Sen. Tommy Garrett

Sen. Garrett is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a registered Republican, and his views may surprise some people. He deserves credit for his advocacy on this issue. 

Relief from chronic pain is one use for medical marijuana. Chronic pain is an all-too-common problem for injured people. Current treatment patterns with strong opiates have reached crisis status. 

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam now allow medical marijuana. It seems now is a good time to study and consider adding marijuana as an alternative to the very dangerous opioids. 

Sen. Garrett put it this way. 

“While Washington may be broken, Nebraska is not. States have rights and I trust that the decision makers here in Lincoln will join me in looking at the research and see that cannabis has demonstrated effectiveness in treating cancer, ALS, MS, Dravet’s syndrome and other terminal and debilitating illnesses. I’m doing this because stuff needs fixing.”

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ABLE Act Set to Help Save for Child’s Disability-related Expenses

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

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was recently passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.

This legislation matters to us because some clients may have a child or children who qualify for an ABLE account.

“The ABLE Act aims to provide families of a severely disabled child with some peace of mind by allowing them to save for their child’s long-term disability expenses in the same way that families of able bodied children can currently save for college through popular 529 investment plans,” according to information on North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr’s website (link is below).

There are a lot of details available on the internet about the act, and some of it is conflicting, as “passage of legislation is a result of a series of compromises,” as noted in the National Down Syndrome Society’s (NDSS) excellent resource article that is linked to below.

One of those limitations is that a person must have a qualified disability diagnosed before turning 26 to have an ABLE account, according to Sen. Burr’s website.

Here are some more links with information that I thought would be most helpful to those who are looking for more details to see if the act’s passage can help a loved one.

This link has detailed information about the act, including its text and history, from Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/647 H.R.647 – 113th Congress (2013-2014): ABLE Act of 2014 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress

Sen. Burr was a co-sponsor of the bill, along with Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Burr’s link has information that includes details on who is eligible for an ABLE account and what are considered “qualified disability expenses.” http://www.burr.senate.gov/public/_files/ABLE%20Act%20Summary%20–%20NH%2011-19.pdf

“ABLE accounts would be a savings vehicle for disability-related expenses that will supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurances, the Medicaid program, the supplemental security income program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources,” according to the site above.

Via the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS): Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act http://www.ndss.org/Advocacy/Legislative-Agenda/Creating-an-Economic-Future-for-Individuals-with-Down-Syndrome/Achieving-a-Better-of-Life-Experience-ABLE-Act/

I thought the section of “10 Things You Must Know” was most helpful, with more details about the who, what, when, where and why of the accounts.

Via the National Association of Injured and Disabled Workers (NAIDW):  Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act https://www.naidw.org/groups/viewdiscussion/1770-achieving-a-better-life-experience-able-act?groupid=144

Via disabilityscoop: The Premier Source for Developmental Disability News: Obama Signs ABLE Act http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2014/12/22/obama-signs-able-act/19935/

“People with disabilities may be able to start opening ABLE accounts as soon as 2015. However, some hurdles remain. While the new law alters federal rules to allow for ABLE accounts, each state must now put regulations in place — much as they have done for other types of 529 plans — so that financial institutions can make the new offering available,” according to the site above.

As is evident from the links above, more groundwork needs to be done to implement the law, so I would encourage those with questions to learn more about the accounts by contacting an accountant or a lawyer who is an expert in life care and special needs.

So if you, a loved one, and/or a friend, are receiving workers’ compensation benefits, but are worried about losing necessary current benefits for your disabled child because of limitations in what you can save or spend, an ABLE account may be just the thing for your situation.

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Small Increase Predicted for Social Security COLA

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

Social Security benefits are slated to go up, but not by much. “The cost-of-living adjustment in Social Security for 2014 is likely to be very small, marking the fourth year in the last five that recipients receive little or no increase in benefits,” according to a recent CNNMoney article

The American Institute for Economic Research estimates the increase to be 1.4% to 1.6%.  Last year’s increase was 1.7%, and the 2012 increase of 3.6% was the only “significant rise in benefits in recent years,” according to the article.

If there are questions about your specific legal situation, please contact the firm.

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Shutdown Hurts Groups that Help Injured Workers

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

government-shutdownI can imagine few feelings worse than being hurt on the job, being unable to work and not getting benefits, and/or not being able to seek treatment. I get calls from my clients in that predicament frequently, and it is probably the worst part of my job. 

But the shutdown has made this situation even worse for injured workers with denied claims. The shutdown has endangered funding to community action programs that can help injured workers at least get short-term help with rent, housing utilities and food.

Please call your senator and representative and tell them to come to their senses and end this shutdown. Also, please consider donating to your local community action program, which you can find by doing an internet search.

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The Problems with States Refusing Medicaid Expansion

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

Medicaid expansion was a large part of the recent health care reform law under the Affordable Care Act. For reasons that seem to be solely based on politics, some state governors have made public their decision to reject the Medicaid expansion, and as a result, federal funding of the expansion.

Besides the obvious problems this rejection would cause for millions of uninsured Americans and the health care providers who treat these uninsured people, this rejection could have a negative effect on workers, especially injured workers, of these states.

Fellow workers’ compensation lawyer, friend and colleague Tom Domer of Wisconsin discussed the possible ramifications when an injured worker does not have access to health insurance. Mr. Domer discussed the following scenario that we see day in, and day out, in a previous blog post:

“The personal toll on the uninsured is devastating, especially for those dealing with work injuries.

As a worker’s compensation attorney, the following scenario plays out on a daily basis: A hard-working individual—who is lucky enough to have health insurance through the employer—is injured at work through no fault of his own. The injury is severe enough to not allow a return to work, or the employer simply terminates the employee (this insidious action happens far too often with far too little publicity). After termination, the injured worker is offered federal COBRA rights to continue paying the health insurance premiums at the full 100%, which of course, is near impossible when you are off work without income. Thus, the worker loses health insurance for himself and for his family.

On the flip side, the worker’s compensation insurance company is supposed to pay for reasonable medical treatment expenses related to the injury; however, the carrier usually hires an “independent” medical doctor to deny the worker’s compensation claim. The injured worker is then left out in the cold with an injury that requires medical treatment, but he has no ability to get that medical treatment without health insurance or workers’ compensation coverage. The worker then calls me and asks the emotionally-laden question: ‘What do I do?’”

Nebraska is one of the states that is “Leaning Toward Not Participating” in the Medicaid expansion, at least according to Gov. Dave Heineman’s public statements on the topic.

This can have a devastating effect on Nebraska workers who have suffered an injury.

As Mr. Domer further states:

“Access to health insurance alters this equation. If the worker had adequate access to health insurance, especially Medicaid, he could obtain the medical care that could allow a return to work, regardless of whether the worker’s compensation insurer accepted or denied the claim. Whether work-related or not, injured individuals should have the opportunity to get healthy in our country.”

So what can be done about this problem? Contact your government officials to encourage them to provide injured workers increased access by expanding Medicaid.

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Workplace Violence and Sandy Hook Elementary School

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristina Brown Thompson, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

In light of the horrific elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut last week it may be time to re-evaluate workplace violence, which seems to be increasing at an alarming rate. Technically, workplace violence is any act where an employee is abused, threatened, intimidated, or assaulted in the workplace. It can include threats, harassment, and verbal abuse, as well as physical attacks by someone with an assault rifle. 

Two million American workers are victims of workplace violence every year. What’s worse is that workplace violence is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths in the United States. Last year, for example, one in every five fatal work injuries was attributed not to accidents but to workplace violence,  and  some employees are at an increased risk for harm. For example, employees who work with the public or who handle money are more at risk (i.e. bank tellers, pizza delivery drivers, or social workers). According to the 2011 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries by the U.S. Dept. of Labor, robbers were found to be the assailants in almost a third of homicide/workplace violence cases involving men, whereas female workers were more likely to be attacked by a relative (i.e. former spouse or partner) while at work.  

Preventing workplace violence is a challenging task and OSHA advises employers to create a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. Creating a safe perimeter for employees is crucial. Likewise, having an emergency protocol in place should reduce the number of fatalities in an attack, and that’s exactly what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut when the school’s protocol saved the lives of many children.

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OSHA Reaches Employer Agreement to Stop Discouraging Employee Accident Reports

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

Statistics regarding the reporting of accidents have historically been challenged for accuracy as employees have been fearful about reporting events, and employers have been reluctant for numerous reasons, including the potential of increased insurance costs. Now OSHA has taken a significant step to legitimize the process by seeking an employer accord not to take adverse actions against employees for reporting injuries in the workplace.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has signed an accord with BNSF Railway Co., headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, announcing BNSF’s voluntary revision of several personnel policies that OSHA alleged violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and dissuaded workers from reporting on-the-job injuries. FRSA’s Section 20109 protects railroad workers from retaliation for, among other acts, reporting suspected violations of federal laws and regulations related to railroad safety and security, hazardous safety or security conditions, and on-the-job injuries.

“Protecting America’s railroad workers who report on-the-job injuries from retaliation is an essential element in OSHA’s mission. This accord makes significant progress toward ensuring that BNSF employees who report injuries do not suffer any adverse consequences for doing so,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “It also sets the tone for other railroad employers throughout the U.S. to take steps to ensure that their workers are not harassed, intimidated or terminated, in whole or part, for reporting workplace injuries.”

The major terms of the accord include:

  • Changing BNSF’s disciplinary policy so that injuries no longer play a role in determining the length of an employee’s probation following a record suspension for a serious rule violation. As of Aug. 31, 2012, BNSF has reduced the probations of 136 employees who were serving longer probations because they had been injured on-the-job.
  • Eliminating a policy that Continue reading