Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

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Is Your Job Causing Asthma or Making It Worse?

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

The spring allergy season that also causes asthma concerns is upon us, and this is especially evident in the Great Plains, where the wind blows dust and pollen throughout most days. 

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 16 percent of American adults had asthma that was either caused or aggravated by conditions at work. According to the National Institutes of Health, workers who are regularly exposed to chemicals and dust, such as millers, bakers, woodworkers and farm workers, are most vulnerable to work-related asthma. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America states that adults lose 14 million work days per year because of asthma. 

In terms of Nebraska, this means that approximately 134,400 days of work are missed in Nebraska due to work-related asthma. In Iowa, that number is closer to 224,000 days of work that are missed because of work-related asthma. This is an estimate of missed days nationwide in proportion to the population of the states. 

Workers should make sure their employers are providing safety equipment that protects against respiratory injury. Employees should make sure they are carrying inhalers in the workplace if they have been prescribed them by a doctor for asthma. 

But if a worker suspects their work is causing breathing problems or making pre-existing asthma worse, they should report that as a workers’ compensation injury and seek treatment with a specialist in treating breathing conditions. Medical bills for treating asthma should be covered like any other work injury, and any lost time because of work-related asthma should entitle an employee to temporary disability for lost time and permanent disability for permanent breathing problems. 

Work-related asthma would also be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and under similar state laws. Further, an employee has protection against retaliation under most states’ laws, including Nebraska and Iowa, as well as under federal law, for reporting work conditions that cause asthma and/or from claiming workers’ compensation benefits for work-related asthma.

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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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Being Mortal, a book about end-of-life medical care, by Atul Gawande

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

All of us need to talk honestly about matters that concern us. Talking honestly about end-of-life choices is essential, and Atul Gawande (a surgeon in Boston) makes that clear in his book Being Mortal. Are the desperate surgical procedures and expensive treatments, which usually reduce the quality of life of a terminally ill patient, worth it? If discussed openly and honestly early in the process, would the patient choose to die in a hospital or at home with his family under the care of hospice?

Once one becomes seriously ill, even at an early age, perceptions change. What becomes important are the people in your life. The same is true as you approach death as an older person, and those last few months or years can be highlights of dignity, or they can turn into medical nightmares. “It’s perception, not age, that matters most.”

Dr. Gawande gives examples including the death of his own father, to illustrate different scenarios and notes that, “25% of all Medicare spending is for the 5% of patients who are in their final year of life, and most of that money goes for care in their last couple of months and is of little apparent benefit.” He readily admits doctors don’t ask the hard questions and he is changing his ways as a surgeon, but he wants the patient and family to get there first. This book is worth reading in order to understand, to contemplate, and to help make wise decisions about end-of-life issues.

For a more in-depth analysis, go to NPR Frontline.

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Workers’ Comp Programs Further Injure Injured Workers

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

Those of us who represent injured workers have known for a long time that workers’ compensation does not restore an injured worker to his pre-injury wage or status.  Two reports released in March show how workplace injuries have failed injured workers and leave them deeper in debt.  OSHA released a report indicating the changes in workers’ compensation programs have made it much more difficult for injured workers to receive benefits or medical expenses.  Although employers pay insurance premiums to workers’ compensation insurance companies who are supposed to pay benefits for medical expenses, employers provide just 20% of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries through workers’ compensation according to the OSHA report. 

This “cost shifting” is borne by the taxpayer.  As a result of this cost shifting, taxpayers are subsidizing the vast majority of the income and medical care costs of injured workers.  After a work injury, injured workers’ incomes average more than $30,000 lower over a decade than if they had not been injured.  Additionally, very low wage workers are injured at a disproportionate rate. 

Another report by ProPublica and National Public Radio found that 33 states have workers’ compensation laws that reduced benefits or made it more difficult for those with certain injuries and diseases to qualify for benefits.  Those hurdles, combined with employers and insurers increasing control of medical decisions (such as whether an injured worker needs surgery) reduced the worker’s likelihood of obtaining the medical care needed.

Overall, injured workers who should be paid under workers’ compensation are receiving less benefits and their medical care is being dodged by insurers and paid for by taxpayers through Medicaid and Medicare, or by increased insurance premiums for all of us through group health insurance rate increases.

Our general sense that injured workers are faring poorly is borne out by the research.

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Workers’ Compensation: The Man-made Quagmire (Part 1 of 3)

I’m starting here a three-part series explaining why workers should claim their rights under workers’ compensation laws.  The three parts are, in summary: 

  1. How the employer makes it tough to claim work comp;
  2. How the insurer makes it tough to claim work comp; and
  3. Summary:  Why it’s Important to You and your Family that you Claim Work Comp when You are Hurt on the Job. 

Below is the first installment.

 


Workers’ compensation [“work comp”] is every workers’ right. Yet, researchers years ago determined that many employers and most work comp insurers try their best to persuade workers to not make claims. That “persuasion” takes many forms. It’s important that workers know that this “persuasion” is calculated and how to deal with it. Why? Because workers’ compensation benefits are your right and those benefits are important to you, your family and the overall safety of your workplace.

Part 1: Dealing with the Employer’s Persuasion Tactics 

  1. Suppressing Reporting of Work Injuries: Pizza-Bingo Party!! — Nancy Lessin (the MA AFL-CIO Health & Safety Coordinator) taught me years ago that giving workers some type of prize for so many hours without a reported injury is NOT based on generosity. No, it’s based on cost cutting. It’s also completely contrary to public policy!

    Work comp is required by law. One of work comp’s basic purposes is to make workplaces safer. How? By making employers pay higher work comp premiums in circumstances in which there are high rates of injuries, thus giving the employer financial incentives to implement safety measures to keep injury rates low, leading to lower premium costs. Some sly employer offer such things as pizza parties, small bonuses, gift-drawings and the like knowing full well that doing so puts pressure on the workers to not report work injuries.

    Why? Because the more a worker cares about her/his brothers and sisters, the more likely the worker will — when hurt at work — do the wrong thing.  What’s the wrong thing? It’s preserving your friends’ pizza party or “prize” by putting the accident as “personal,” and putting the costs on health insurance, LTD and lost sick/vacation time. The problem with this is often not discovered until too late. What do I mean “too late?” I mean when the health insurance company investigates and finds the injury was caused by work and thus denies coverage under the standard health insurance exclusion for work injuries. And when the time missed due to the work injury outstrips the amount of sick and vacation you’ve banked for the last 13 years. Even that does not account for what happens years later.

    First, you work injury may be “the gift that keeps on giving.” It may require 2 or even 3 surgeries, leading to even more medical expenses and time off work. Only work comp pays this.  No LTD or health insurance comes close. Bottom line: Don’t be misled by the “gifts” for no reported work injuries. The only entity getting that “gift” is your employer.

  2. Termination—Yes, we all know the employer who makes up an excuse — ANY excuse — and fires the injured worker within days of the injury.  This is illegal under all public policy, Iowa law (Springer v. Weeks) and U.S. law (the Americans with Disabilities Act).
  3. Return to work at a job that is not within even the company doctor’s work restrictions. Remember — not trying a tendered job — any job — sets up the argument that the worker is “insubordinate,” “refusing work” or “no-call/no-show.” One must try any job, whether the job’s tasks are within restrictions or not. One need not, however, continue to do any tasks that cause worsening of the work-injury condition. If asked to do something outside restrictions set by the doctor:
    1. report that the job’s outside your restrictions;
    2. when told to do the job anyway (which will likely happen), perform the job the best you can and hope for the best; and
    3. if the job does what is feared — worsens your injury condition — go to the company workers’ compensation officer and demand a return to the company doctor immediately, before your injury is permanently worsened.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2: Dealing with the Insurance Company’s Persuasion Tactics.

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Facebook Postings Hurt Workers’ Compensation Claims

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

While Facebook is extremely popular and used by over a billion people every day, no Facebook posting has ever helped an injured worker in a workers’ compensation claim. On the contrary, use of a Facebook page poses real dangers for injured workers pursuing workers’ compensation benefits.

Since Facebook is a public site, anything posted can be used by respondent insurance companies in claims denial. Even the most benign postings (birthday parties, family gatherings, etc.) can pose problems. For example, a grandparent lifting a 30 pound grandchild when doctors have imposed a 10 pound lifting limit could damage a claim. Additionally, nothing prevents an Administrative Law Judge from looking at a Facebook page.  Even innocent posts may be subject to misinterpretation. A picture of the worker riding a motorcycle or fishing taken prior to the injury but posted afterward could place the seed of doubt in an ALJ’s mind that the worker is not as limited as he claims. The best advice is to be extremely careful about what is posted because “friends” are not the only one who can access your Facebook page.

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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

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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.