Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

Health Wonk Review, CTE, bill review, messing with Texas, and more

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Jared Rhoads of The Lucidicus Project hosts this week’s Health Wonk Review, and he dishes up a heaping helping of the blogosphere’s best heath policy posts from the last two weeks. Check it out!
Happy Birthday – to David Williams at Health Business Blog for 6 years of quality healthcare blogging. David is one f the regular Health Wonkers. See his Best of the Blog post for a fine sampling of his work.
More sports-related head trauma tragedy – Earlier this week, my colleague posted about football-related chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Yesterday, the New York Times featured a story about how hockey brawler Bob Probert also suffered from CTE: “But the legacy of [Bob] Probert, who died last July of heart failure at 45, could soon be rooted as much in his head as his hands.After examining Probert’s brain tissue, researchers at Boston University said this week that they found the same degenerative disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, whose presence in more than 20 deceased professional football players has prompted the National Football League to change some rules and policies in an effort to limit dangerous head impacts.”
Bill review – Are you getting what you pay for with medical bill review? At Managed Care Matters, Joe Paduda takes some of the mystery out of the equation in his discussion about what your savings should be from your work comp medical bill review program.
Criminal indictment for Massey mine official – Hughie Elbert Stover, the chief of security for Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine has been charged with two felonies related to the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 coal miners. He is accused of lying to investigators and destroying records. On his blog, reporter Ken Ward asks if this is just the beginning of indictments.
Don’t mess with Texas – If you ever use the words “workers compensation” and “Texas” in the same sentence, you better think twice. TX law blogger John Gibson has been issued a “cease and desist” order and threatened with further legal action for his TX Workers Comp Law Blog for having the temerity to use the words “workers compensation” and “Texas” in his blog. We can’t get Gibson’s take because his blog appears to be down (www.texasworkerscomplaw.com), but Julius Young posts the scoop on the Texas workers comp language imbroglio at his Oakland Workers Comp Blog. If you don’t see his post – or ours – please blame Texas. Just to be on the safe side, from here on out we may begin referring to Texas as “Exas-Tay.”
Sedgwick acquires SRS – In a major move in the world of third party administrators, Sedgwick completed the purchased of Specialty Risk Services for $278 million. SRS was the claims TPA arm of The Hartford. In his bog on the Hartford Courant, Matthew Sturdevant reports that: “The deal makes Sedgwick CMS the largest independent North American provider of claims administration services. The combined companies will have annualized revenue of about $1 billion as well as almost 8,500 employees.”
Devil’s in the details – Yvonne Guilbert of Complex Care Blog posts two concrete incidents that show how one small detail missed in home care could easily end up costing $50,000 or more.
Safe hiring practices – As the economy ramps up, new hires will increase an employer’s potential for workplace injuries. At MEMIC Safety Blog, Greg LaRochelle says that a new employee is 5x more likely to have a lost-time injury than a more experienced worker, and that 40% of all workers injured on the job have been on the job for less than a year. He posts about hiring practices to help mitigate risk.
Hiring VetsHR Daily Advisor offers a good roundup of tips and advice for hiring returning veterans. The post includes questions to ask and to avoid during the interview.
Short Takes
AIG results and workers comp
Four steps to evaluate absence policies
Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame 2010
Smiling makes the world go round
7 wellness benefits employees want most

Guns on campus: things are heating up in Texas

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Amid much controversy, the Texas Legislature is considering SB354, a bill that would allow licensed students and professors to carry concealed handguns on college campuses. The bill has passed a Senate committee and has been referred to the Committee of Criminal Justice, where it will be up for a hearing. (Follow SB354). With support from Governor Rick Perry and more than half the members of the House signing on as co-authors, most observers think that the bill will be passed. But according to an article by Patrick Williams in the Dallas Observer, concealed guns on campus is not necessarily a fait accompli: “[Similar] legislation has failed 43 times in 23 states since Virginia Tech,” Malte says, referring to the 2007 campus mass murder that claimed 32 lives. “Every time somebody said this is a done deal over the last three years, it was defeated.”
Utah is currently the only state that allows guns on campus, but legislation is on the docket in several other states. Fox Business News reports that eight other states currently have campus carry legislation underway. These include Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Tennessee.
With sympathetic Republicans at or approaching supermajority status in a few of these states, the political stars are in alignment for success. Ultimately, the deciding factor may come down to the strength of student and parental support or opposition. Keep Guns Off Campus says that the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and 271 colleges and universities in 36 states – 189 four-year colleges and universities and 82 community colleges and technical schools – have joined the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. (See Listing). On the other hand,
Students for Concealed Carry on Campus point to widespread support – not the least of which is the mighty power and deep pockets of the NRA.

Follow-on to “Guns at Work”

The spate of campus carry legislation is a natural adjunct to the NRA’s major “guns at work” legislative initiative, which has been sweeping the country in recent years to considerable success. According to the NRA, there are now 13 states that have laws permitting employees to have guns at work: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah. While the particulars of these laws vary, such laws generally allow licensed gun owners to keep guns locked in their cars at work, including on employer-owned parking lots. In some states, certain business such as hospitals, schools and prisons are exempt. This is an issue that has pitted the rights of an employer to establish policy for their private property (employer-owned parking lots) against second amendment rights. It’s an issue that has been opposed by employer groups and associations.
For more history on the Guns at Work issue, see prior postings on the topic below.
Three new state laws limit employer restrictions on guns at work
Guns at work: coming to a neighborhood near you?
Workers with guns
Guns at work

All Hallows Eve Edition of Health Wonk Review and other noteworthy news

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The pre-election season used to be dubbed the silly season, but this year it might better be termed the scary season – things are getting pretty acrimonious. Following up on the scary theme, Meredith Hughes, Allison Levy, and Sam Wainwright of New Health Dialogue Blog team up to bring you Health Wonk Review: All Hallows Eve Edition. It’s an entertaining and substantive issue, and the last issue before the election.
And in other news of note:
Joe Paduda of Managed Care Matters tackles the issue of physician dispensed drugs in work comp and explains how repackaged drugs can add to costs by an alarming magnitude. In 2007, California closed this loophole that allowed repackaged drugs to go “off the grid” in terms of existing pricing controls, and other states are now looking at this issue. Joe’s post compiles research and explains why this is an issue you should know and care about.
Roberto Ceniceros of Comp Time looks at the NFL’s recent focus on helmet-to-helmet hits. He links to a press release from the NFL Players Association, which makes the point that player safety extends beyond the field, calling on the league to “call on the league to end “nasty litigation against nearly 300 players’ workers compensation cases and stop saying ‘no’ to the disability benefits of NFL legends.”
Yvonne Guibert of Complex Care Blog discusses obesity and comorbidities and the impact on claims costs. She offers research and resources to help employers grapple with this issue. The current issue of Human Resource Executive also carries a good article on how obesity adds to healthcare costs, along with some approaches that employers are taking to mitigate the problem.
For all practical purposes, Texas is the only state in the union that allows employers to opt out of mandatory workers comp coverage. Peter Rousmaniere takes a look at how the opt-out option has affected employers in the current issue of Risk and Insurance. And on the topic of opting out, see Good News for Texas Non-subscribers, Bad News for Excess Carrier, a post by Michael Fox of Jottings By An Employer’s Lawyer.
Advanced Safety and Health News Blog discusses and links to federal OSHA’s recently issued special evaluation of state-run OSHA programs. “The reports provide detailed findings and recommendations on the operations of state-run OSHA programs in 25 states and territories. The review was initiated after a 2009 special OSHA report on Nevada’s program, identified serious operational deficiencies in that state.”
Judge Tom of the eponymous blog schools us on Oklahoma’s law on recreational injuries and workers comp. In 2005, the law was tightened to exclude any injuries that stem from recreational and social activities, even those occurring on the employer’s premises. He notes: “The larger, unanswered question is whether employers no longer have tort immunity for injuries sustained at recreational and social functions such as Christmas parties, company sponsored sports leagues, the Orcutt basketball pick-up game, attendance at charitable events to name a few.”
Short takes
Weekly Toll: Death in the American Workplace
High Unemployment Rate a Drag on Workers’ Compensation Insurers
Health care group spends $4 million on safety, saves $14 million
Specialist and primary care pay per hour
FedEx to Pay $2.3 Million Over Independent Contractors

Independent Contractors and the (Deadly) Spirit of 1706

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Joseph Stack set his house on fire and then piloted a small plane into a building housing the IRS in Austin, Texas. His daughter calls him a hero. Most of us would call him a terrorist. But whatever you call him, he was motivated in part by section 1706 of the 1986 Tax Reforms. Stack was a software engineer, and thus was directly impacted by the following language in the statute, which forbids the hiring of software engineers as independent contractors:

(d) EXCEPTION. – This section shall not apply in the case of an individual who pursuant to an arrangement between the taxpayer and another person, provides services for such other person as an engineer, designer, drafter, computer programmer, systems analyst, or other similarly skilled worker engaged in a similar line of work.

As a result of this unusual and highly specific language, programmers are almost always compelled to work as employees. Unlike the situation for most workers – who may or may not meet the criteria for independence – there is virtually no wriggle room for engineers.
Stack’s self-identity as a tax protester goes deeper and taps a rich pathological vein. Envious of the tax exempt status granted to religious organizations, he tried to establish his own church, in his own home. Ten years and $40,000 in tax liabilities later, he gave it up. But he surely did not forget, nor did his daughter, Samantha Bell, who appears to be the last remaining worshipper at the defunct church.
Bell concedes that her father’s actions were “inappropriate.” Nonetheless, she considers him a hero for taking a stand for “justice.” Some stand, some notion of justice! In addition to his own life, Stack’s violent act took the life of IRS manager Vernon Hunter and had the potential for killing many more innocent people.
Ironically, the national consensus building around independent contractors is quite the opposite of what Stack envisioned. There is a concerted effort at the federal and state levels to view most working relationships as employer/employee. The burden of proof has shifted onto the companies (most notoriously, FedEx) that try to avoid taxes by calling people “independent contractors.”
Joseph Stack might have thought himself a martyr for the cause of tax reform. He is surely something else: a symbol of the violence, fanaticism and rage that threatens to destabilize the most enduring democracy the world has ever known. Not exactly my idea of a hero.

OSHA issues largest fine on record to BP

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

At the end of last week, OSHA issued $87 million in penalties against BP for failure to make make the changes which were specified in a settlement agreement related to the 2005 explosion at a Texas refinery which killed 15 and injured more than 170 others. The second-highest penalty that OSHA has imposed was in 2005 for $21 million – also issued to BP related to the same explosion.
BP had paid the $21 million fine and agreed to corrective actions to eliminate potential hazards similar to those that caused the 2005 tragedy as part of a settlement agreement with OSHA in September 2005. The penalties were imposed after a 6 month OSHA investigation. BP had recently sought but was denied more time for compliance.
OSHA issued 270 “notifications of failure to abate” previously identified hazards, as well as 439 new willful violations for failures to follow industry-accepted controls. A willful violation is defined by OSHA as an intentional violation of the Act or plain indifference to its requirements.
Unsurprisingly, BP is contesting the fines, stating that they have spent more than $1 billion on modernization and safety and have taken 550 corrective actions. (See BP’s offical response and October 5, 2009 response to OSHA, a 17-page PDF). The company has also gotten support from Texas City’s mayor, Matt Doyle, who has criticized OSHA for the fines, calling OSHA’s actions “one of the biggest affronts to the working men and women of this country” and “an example of intrusion into private business by government.”
Jordan Barab, acting assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, noted that BP had four years to comply with the agreement, and defended OSHA’s actions as protecting the safety of working men and women. While Barab acknowledged that improvements had been made, he noted that some of the most important things had not been addressed, particularly pressure relief and automatic shutdown systems, problems directly related to the accident. “Our experts say BP is 10 years behind where a lot of the leading refineries are when it comes to process safety,” Barab said. “This is a company that should have known better.”

Cavalcade of Risk #80 is posted; other news notes

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Get your biweekly fill of risk-related blog posts – Rita Schwab does a great job in hosting Cavalcade of Risk #80 at her blog Supporting Safer Healthcare.
And in other news …
Construction – According to the release of a report from the Workers Defense Project, Texas is the most dangerous state in the union for construction workers. In 2007, 142 Texas construction workers died, more than any other state. California ranked second, with 81 deaths. According to the report, surveys with more than 300 construction workers revealed that more than two-thirds of the respondents did not receive basic safety training before starting their jobs.
VA compensability – Jon quoted in WaPo – In February, my colleague Jon Coppelman posted about the case of a Virginia truck driver who was found by the side of the road laying by his truck and who subsequently died after lingering in a coma. Sunday, The Washington Post covered the story of Arthur Pierce quoting John and Workers Comp Insider about the attempt by Pierce’s wife to change Virgina law related to cases like her husband’s. Apparently, investigators who reconstructed the scene learned that Pierce fell about 12 feet and injured his head. If he had been found dead at the scene, the fatal injuries would have been presumed to arise out of employment, but due to a quirk in the Virgina law, that presumption does not extend to those who linger for a matter of time before dying, even if that time is just a few hours. So far, her efforts to change the law have been unsuccessful but she plans to try again in January.
Slim Jim Plant Explosion Insurance Journal has a report that investigators at the scene of last week’s North Carolina Slim Jim tragedy have determined that a gas leak caused the explosion and that the ATF has concluded the explosion was an accident and closed its criminal investigation.
NIOSHProtect your family from take home toxins – report on exposures to substances such as lead, asbestos and beryllium, transported from the workplace to home.
Seasonal Safety – Florida AgSafe had a good library of safety articles and guidelines for agricultural workers – also, check out their Safety News and Notes newsletter, which is archived on the site or you can sign up to get them by mail.

Can You Terminate an Employee on Workers Comp?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

Here’s a question that comes up frequently in our employer seminars: can you terminate an employee who is on workers comp? In general, it’s not a good idea. In many states there is a presumption that the termination is in retaliation for filing the comp claim. Nonetheless, the complete answer to the question is yes, you can, but you must do it very carefully.
The invaluable Risk and Insurance Magazine describes a case in Texas that illustrates this point nicely (Williams v AT & T, U.S.District Court, Southern Texas). Williams, a telecommunications tech, alleged that he sprained his leg stepping down from a ladder. He was a bit confused about the exact date, offering more than one in his descriptions of the incident. His claim was denied. One month later, he violated an important company policy and was suspended and then terminated. Even though his comp claim was denied, he alleged that he was terminated in retaliation for filing the claim. He sued AT & T for violating the Texas comp act.
Keep in mind, the employer must be able to demonstrate that the termination had nothing to do with the (denied) claim. In this situation, the burden of proof is definitely on the employer. AT & T presented evidence that Williams had a history of poor performance and excessive disciplinary actions for more than a year prior to the alleged injury. In other words, two key criteria of proof were met: the disciplinary problems preceeded the workers comp incident and they were thoroughly documented.
The court granted summary judgment to the employer. While falling under the protected class of employees who have filed comp claims, Williams could not establish that his termination was related to the comp claim. There were plenty of other reasons for the employer’s actions.
I often hear employers complain that they had been planning to terminate a marginal employee, but then the employee got hurt. In most cases, there is inadequate documentation of poor performance prior to the injury. These employers are stuck: any attempt to document performance issues after the injury will be viewed sceptically by the court. The termination will trigger retaliation claims.
Here is a quick tip to avoid this situation: fire marginal employees before they get hurt. Once employees are injured on the job, an employer’s options narrow significantly. Given that marginal employees are more likely to be injured – that’s part of what makes them marginal – prompt action to end their employment is an essential “best practice.”

Initial rulings go against W.R. Grace in Libby suit

Monday, October 1st, 2007

In a case that the Justice Department described as as one of the most serious criminal indictments in U.S. history, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that criminal charges against W.R. Grace executives for “knowing endangerment” could be reinstated.
We recently blogged about asbestos-related illnesses surfacing in workers of a Texas vermiculite plant that was run by W.R. Grace. The plant processed vermiculite from the company’s infamous mine in Libby, Montana. We noted that seven W.R. Grace executives would be facing a criminal trial in September related to deaths that have occurred in Libby. The charges can lead to 15 years in prison on each count
Executives are being charged with exposing Libby residents to asbestos fibers for more than three decades, despite being aware of the dangers of the ore, as indicated by internal company documents. Workers were never alerted to those dangers.

“From 1963 until the early 1990s, Grace mined and processed a large supply of vermiculite ore on a mountain six miles outside Libby. Clouds of vermiculite, which contained tiny shards of dangerous asbestos, were inhaled by the miners and brought home to their families in their clothes.
The health crisis that followed didn’t become national news until 1999 when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that hundreds of vermiculite miners and their families had died and thousands more had become ill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency immediately launched an emergency cleanup.”

Last year, a federal judge dropped some charges on a statute of limitations basis and excluded some evidence considered vital to prosecuting the government’s case. But on September 20, the federal Appeals Court reinstated conspiracy and environmental charges against the company and its executives. Prosecutors can now present evidence back to 1976. Studies show that the rate of asbestos-related illness in Libby is 40 times higher than the national average.
We will be following this case, which affects many workers, family members, and townspeople. We suspect that workers and family members of the more than 200 plants nationwide that were processing the ore will also be following this case. Those of us in Massachusetts remember another highly publicized environmental case involving W.R. Grace in Woburn, Mass., a case that had widespread attention due to a book and a film called A Civil Action.

15 TX workers linked to vermiculite exposure; echoes of Libby, Montana

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Last week, the Dallas News reported that fifteen former workers and residents exposed to vermiculite from a West Dallas mineral processing plant are exhibiting signs of asbestos-related illnesses such as asbestosis and cancer, a development one physician termed as “alarming.” More than 400 employees, family members and nearby residents of the vermiculite plant have been tested, and of the 252 analyzed so far, about 6 percent are showing signs of asbestos related illness. The sample group represents only a portion of the total workers and nearby residents who may have been exposed from 1953 to 1992. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has issued an exposure evaluation fact sheet for Texas Vermiculite’s site in Dallas.
The Libby Montana connection: W.R. Grace trial set for September; Libby, Montana documentary to air
The Texas Vermiculite plant was operated by W.R. Grace & Co., and was one of a number around the nation that processed vermiculite from the company’s mine in Libby, Montana. For those who may not be familiar with the infamous events surrounding Libby, Montana, I would recommend a High Plains documentary film of the same name – “Libby, Montana – that will be airing on P.O.V. on August 28th at 10 PM. (Check your local PBS for times). The film tells the very troubling story of massive public health crisis affecting hundreds of ex-miners, their families, and the townspeople who have been stricken by asbestos-related illnesses. The exposure has been associated with more than 200 deaths to date. At least 1200 former workers and town residents have been stricken with asbestos-related illnesses. Many in the town are charging the EPA with foot-dragging in the emergency clean-up.
The documentary will provide background both for the TX exposure and for the W.R. Grace criminal trial scheduled to begin this September. In February 2005, W.R. Grace and seven of its executives were indicted in the Libby asbestos deaths.
Additional information on Libby, Montana
– Jordan Barab’s extensive coverage of Libby at Confined Space
The Seattle Post Intelligencer’s Special Report series: Uncivil Action – A town left to die
– Trailer for Libby, Montana:

TX WC Council eliminated after funds slashed

Friday, October 3rd, 2003

State budget woes are taking a toll on Texas. Recently, the Research and Oversight Council (ROC) on Workers’ Compensation announced it would be closing shop after a line item veto of funding by Governor Rick Perry.

Gene Acua, a spokesman in the governor’s office, says the governor felt the agency’s operation was not cost-justified. The ROC had requested $979,290 for fiscal year 2004 and an additional $979,290 for fiscal year 2005.

Apparently, many of ROC’s functions will be transferred to the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) through a memorandum of understanding. We’ll have to see if the research reports and Texas Monitor continue.