News roundup: HWR, WV, safety, guestworker abuse, case law, and Rx PR

September 6th, 2007 by Julie Ferguson

Health Wonk Review day – Brian Klepper hosts a great issue of Health Wonk Review at The Doctor Weighs In. He offers very readable and interesting summary of 15 posts culled from the health policy blogosphere. Check it out! And as usual, the host blog — which features physicians offering perspectives on fat, fitness, health, and longevity — is worth a bit of your time, as well.
Double health wonkery today – Due to an administrative snafu, HWR is also posted at The Doctor Is In. Many of this week’s submissions were mistakenly funneled there, a confusion between The Doctor Is In and The Doctor Weighs In. Dr. Bob, the host at at the former, is not a regular HWR participant, but he kindly jumped in to the fray when he started getting submissions. Many thanks to him for taking the initiative. It was happy mix-up, because his blog has provided lots of interesting reads on a variety of subjects in and out of the health care realm. Plus, he has some pictures that will cheer your day.
Worker safety – In honor of Labor Day earlier this week, The House Education and Labor Committee put together a map depicting approximately 10% of deaths that occurred in U.S. workplaces during 2007. Committee Chair Rep. George Miller (D-CA) suggests a redoubling of efforts to improve worker safety.
West Virginia gearing up for privatizationInsurance Journal reports that at least nine major insurers are waiting in the wings to provide workers’ comp coverage in formerly private West Virginia. Right now, BrickStreet Mutual Insurance Co. is the state’s sole provider (previously discussed) but that changes in July 2008, when the market for covering private employers opens up, as per the state’s 2005 reform dictate.
Guestworker program abuse – The Institute for Southern Studies brings a disturbing report of modern-day slavery on the Gulf Coast involving migrant workers employed in the post-Katrina clean-up through the federal H2B guestworker visa program. The allegations involve welders and pipefitters from Veracruz, Mexico, who allege incidents of abuse, unsafe work conditions, being held against their will in trailers without food until they were able to escape, and then being forced by police to return to the same abusive employer. Other similar reports of abuse have surfaced with the guestworker program, leading to the question of whether such programs are subject to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.
Legal cases
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that an employer may offset workers comp by disability payments. In Jeanne Nichios v. S.D. Warren/Sappi et al, the Court ruled that the employer may use a group life and disability plan payment to an injured worker to offset its workers’ compensation benefit payment. The employee had argued that because the disability payment was made under a group life policy, it was not subject to state law governing coordination of benefits.
In July, the Delaware State Supreme Court ruled that a worker hurt in horseplay might be able to sue. A few of Stephen Grabowski Jr.’s co-workers thought it would be amusing to overpower him and tie him up in duct tape. He suffered back and knee injuries that required surgery, and was also treated for post-traumatic stress. While injuries that occur in the course of horseplay are generally not compensable, Grabowski was awarded benefits as a “non-particpating victim,” and therefore barred from bringing a negligence claim against his coworkers. Grabowski argued that because his injury occurred outside the scope of his normal job duties, the workers’ compensation law would not bar a tort claim . The Supreme Court returned the case to the trial judge to analyze the issue of whether horseplay is outside course and scope of the job, and if so, Grabowskie may be able to sue. The Supreme Court opinion can be found here.
Pharmaceutical PR – Richard Smith, former editor of BMJ, raises the issue of whether medical journals have become an extension of the marketing arm of pharmaceutical companies. He contends that advertising is the least part of the problem; rather, it is the coverage of clinical trials which rarely produce results that are unfavorable to the sponsoring organization. He suggests that peer review is not enough, journals should critique the trials that they publish.