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Examining Workers’ Compensation Costs to Employers

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey 1991 – 2014 (Credit: Sisi Wei/ProPublica)

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

Business and insurance interests are bombarding state legislatures every day of the week to take workers’ rights away by complaining how most states’ workers’ compensation systems are too expensive.

Recently, ProPublica and NPR produced a very detailed explanation of the state of workers’ compensation, focusing, rightly so, on injured workers. This article, which was the first in the series, included an interactive graphic that showed that even though business are complaining about rising premius, workers’ compensation insurance coverage is generally at its lowest rate in 25 years, “even as the costs of health care have increased dramatically,” according to the article.

As examples, using the average premium cost to the employer per $100 of workers’ wages, Nebraska employers paid $1.93 in 1988, while they actually paid $.15 less for the premium in 2014, for a total of $1.78 per $100 of workers’ wages, according to the chart. Iowa was more dramatic, with the price of workers’ compensation insurance $2.79 per $100 of workers’ wages in 1988. It went down $.91 to $1.88 per $100 of workers’ wages in 2014.

By scrolling down in the article, a person finds another graphic that shows how employer costs have risen for other categories, but have fallen for workers’ compensation. Most notably, the cost of workers’ compensation insurance coverage (per $100 of workers’ wages) went from $2.71 in 1991 to $2.00 in 2014. During the same timeframe, the cost of health insurance went from $8.55 to $12.52 and the cost of retirement benefits went from $5.50 to $7.29, all per $100 of workers’ wages, according to the chart in the article.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore and Trucker Lawyers are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Six attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 90 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska and Iowa in state-specific workers’ compensation systems. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), and the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA).  We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

How much is your arm worth? Depends on where you work

Today’s post was shared by Workers Compensation and comes from www.propertycasualty360.com

Nearly every state has what’s known as a
Nearly every state has what’s known as a "schedule of benefits" that divides up the body like an Angus beef chart.

At the time of their accidents, Jeremy Lewis was 27, Josh Potter 25.

The men lived within 75 miles of each other. Both were married with two children about the same age. Both even had tattoos of their children’s names.

Their injuries, suffered on the job at Southern industrial plants, were remarkably similar, too. Each man lost a portion of his left arm in a machinery accident.

After that, though, their paths couldn’t have diverged more sharply: Lewis received just $45,000 in workers’ compensation for the loss of his arm. Potter was awarded benefits that could surpass $740,000 over his lifetime.

The reason: Lewis lived and worked in Alabama, which has the nation’s lowest workers’ comp benefits for amputations. Potter had the comparative good fortune of losing his arm across the border in Georgia, which is far more generous when it comes to such catastrophic injuries.

This disparity grimly illustrates the geographic lottery that governs compensation for workplace injuries in America. Congress allows each state to determine its own benefits, with no federal minimums, so workers who live across state lines from each other can experience entirely different outcomes for identical injuries.

Nearly every state has what’s known as a “schedule of benefits” that divides up the body like an Angus beef…

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Court: Juries to decide if state Uber, Lyft drivers are employees

Artist Peter Ashlock drives for Uber and Lyft in San Francisco, California on Wednesday, February 18, 2015. He talks about 1099’s received from both companies. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.sfgate.com

Juries must decide whether California drivers for the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft are employees entitled to minimum wages, expenses and other workplace benefits, two San Francisco federal judges ruled Wednesday, rejecting the companies’ argument that the drivers must be considered independent contractors.

U.S. District Judges Edward Chen, in the Uber case, and Vince Chhabria, in the Lyft case, said the drivers resemble contractors in some respects, such as their ability to choose their work hours and the riders they accept, and employees in other respects, such as the companies’ control over drivers’ interactions with customers and its power to fire them at any time. “A reasonable jury could go either way,” Chhabria said.

The rulings were nonetheless at least a partial victory for the drivers, who filed the suits as proposed class actions on behalf of all drivers in California.

It’s actually “a major victory for the drivers,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a lawyer representing thousands of drivers for both Uber and Lyft. She said the judges “agreed with many arguments we made about why the facts point to an employment relationship.”

The stakes are considerable. State law entitles employees to minimum and overtime wages, reimbursement for work expenses, workers’ compensation benefits for job-related injuries, and unemployment insurance. Independent contractors receive none of those. A driver’s status…

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Workers’ Compensation – A System Destroyed

            A recent national study confirms what most attorneys who have practiced in the workers’ comp arena have observed over the past ten to twenty years:  the business lobby and the insurance industry, enabled by the ever-increasing takeover of state legislatures by the Republican party, have largely dismembered our nation’s 100-year-old workers’ comp system.  ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom producing public interest investigative journalism, has shined a light on what has happened to the most important safety net for workers.  The full article is here. The whole series is an exhaustive look at the changes afoot; well worth a read.

            Under the banner of reforming a system described as suffering “out of control costs,” the allied forces have drastically reduced coverage for injured workers over the past ten years, and have shifted the cost of workplace accident and illness from the responsible businesses and industries and onto the American taxpayer through Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, systems now under extreme pressure themselves.

            The usual cited basis for these cutbacks and shrinking coverage – rising costs – has now been shown to be totally fraudulent.  Employers are paying the lowest workers’ comp rates since the 1970s, and insurers are enjoying their highest profits in a decade – 18% in 2013.

            Some other findings in the ProPublica report:

  1. Since 2003, 33 states have passed laws reducing benefits or making qualifying for them more difficult.

  2. Employers and insurers now largely medical decisions—in 37 states workers can’t choose their doctor, or must choose from a restricted list.

  3. Increasingly, benefits are terminated before workers have regained the ability to re-enter employment.

And what has the federal government done, mandated in 1972 to ensure that states maintained minimum federal standards?  Nothing since 2004, after budget cuts eliminated funding for the feds to track and monitor what was happening in the states.  With the disappearance of any federal oversight, workers’ comp in the states has become a “race to the bottom.”

      For context, ProPublica briefly refreshes the mostly-forgotten history of the origins of workers’ comp – the grand bargain arising out of the age of early industrialization that caused grisly, incapacitating injuries whereby workers surrendered their, often illusory, right to sue their employers in return for the limited but certain remedies of workers’ compensation.  Fifty years after most states had enacted workers’ comp laws, a federal commission convened by President Richard Nixon reviewed the state of the laws, found them “inadequate and inequitable,” and made an extensive list of recommendations. The commission advised Congress to mandate 19 of the recommendations as minimum standards, and for a period of time the national state of workers’ comp laws improved.  But about twenty years ago, the rising conservative tide in the states initiated a new era of cutbacks, to the point that, according to ProPublica, only seven states now follow at least fifteen of the commission’s recommendations.

      The ProPublica report details several shocking examples of how workers’ comp, shrunken as a remedy by the chambers of commerce whose representatives often write the “reform” legislation in the various states, is failing the American worker.  It cites a study by a University of California health economist who estimates that workers’ comp covered less than a third of injured workers’ medical costs and lost earnings in 2007.

In the summer of 2014 a Florida judge ruled that the state’s workers’ comp benefits had been decimated to such an extent, and that the comp law failed so miserably as to safety, health, welfare and morals, that it had become “unconstitutional.”  That would mean the end of the “grand bargain” in that state and the restoration of the right of workers to sue their employers.  One hundred years after the enactment of the first workers’ comp laws, we may be standing on the precipice of a new era of worker rights for the consequences of workplace injury and disease.

Graphic credit: Matt Rota for ProPublica

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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

This Chair-Free Office Bans Sitting

Today’s post was shared by The Green Workplace and comes from www.fastcodesign.com

Even though it’s now old news that sitting is killing us all, people still sit a whole lot, especially at office jobs. Standing desks are one solution, but office workers often have to take the initiative to request one from their employers. What if, instead, an office’s very design simply ruled out the option of sitting all day?

RAAAF (Rietveld Architecture-Art Affordances), a Netherlands-based experimental studio that works at the intersection of visual art, architecture, and science, collaborated with artist Barbara Visser to design "The End of Sitting," a conceptual office with no chairs and no traditional desks. Instead, the office is filled with faceted three-dimensional geometric shapes on which workers can stand, lean, perch, or even lie down. Viewed from above, the white objects resemble an artist’s abstract rendering of cracked glacial ice more than furniture. They range from waist-height to shoulder-height, allowing workers to change positions throughout the day.

Ricky Rijkenberg

The designers spent 10 days building the labyrinthine "experimental work landscape" from plywood frames and a secret render (described as being "as hard as concrete") at Looiersgracht 60, an Amsterdam-based exhibition space. "The End of Sitting" is part art installation, part psychological study: it’s the visual component of architect Erik Rietveld’s research project, called "The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied…

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After her husband’s death, widow warns burn pits used in Iraq may cause deadly cancer

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from www.kshb.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The widow of a Raytown veteran killed by a rare and aggressive cancer says she’s convinced her husband’s illness was brought on by his exposure to toxic fumes from “burn pits” during his service in Iraq.

Now she’s warning other veterans to speak to their doctors about risks associated with the pits.

Sgt. Matthew Gonzales received a diagnosis of Esthesioneuroblastoma four years after returning from Tikrit, where he worked regularly near a burn pit used to dispose of medical waste by burning it with jet fuel in a large open pit.

“One thing that caught me off guard is that they didn’t have any protective gear covering themselves,” his widow, Elizabeth, said of a video her husband showed her of the pit. “I asked about that, and he felt confident saying, ‘The government wouldn’t put us in any harm’s way. They’re going to protect us.’”

After an oral surgeon discovered the mass that turned out to be the start of her husband’s cancer, Elizabeth Gonzales now says that’s exactly what the government did.  

“The surgeon said that exposure to different toxicities like sands and paints and things like that would cause a person to get this type of cancer,” Gonzales told 41 Action News. “I started researching burn pits and found out that there’s thousands of soldiers and contractors who are reporting different medical issues since their exposure to burn pits.”

And…

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Underpaid, overworked and far to go: the Obama administration’s conscience for women at work

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from www.theguardian.com

Woman worker

Within the US Department of Labor, there is a little-known bureau: the Women’s bureau.

Since 1920, the bureau has focused on tracking and supporting the growth of women in the workforce.

Many things have changed over the past 90-plus years. In 1920, women accounted for just 21% of working Americans. By 2012, that number had more than doubled, with women making up 47% of American workers. More than 75% of single mothers are the sole breadwinners in their families.

Even as things have changed, many things have stayed the same. The wage gap still persists – with women earning about 78 cents for every dollar that men earn. About 6% of female workers earn minimum wage, compared to just 3% of men.

Until that changes, the bureau won’t rest. There is still a lot of work to do, says Latifa Lyles, the director of the bureau.

“While we are the only federal agency that focuses on women in the workforce and women’s economic security issues, we are part of a larger coalition in the Obama administration who are making sure that we are addressing women’s issues in a coordinated way and improving programs and outcomes with other federal agencies,” says Lyles.

One of the partners working closely with the bureau is the White House Council on Women and Girls. This past year, President Obama and the bureau convened a summit on working families that brought together low-wage workers, business owners and policymakers to discuss the issues that affect working…

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Pain Really Is All In Your Head And Emotion Controls Intensity

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.npr.org

Image of brain within a skullImage of brain within a skull
Image of brain within a skull

When you whack yourself with a hammer, it feels like the pain is in your thumb. But really it’s in your brain.

That’s because our perception of pain is shaped by brain circuits that are constantly filtering the information coming from our sensory nerves, says David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind.

"There is a completely separate system for the emotional aspect of pain — the part that makes us go, ‘Ow! This is terrible.’ "

- David Linden, neuroscientist, Johns Hopkins University

"The brain can say, ‘Hey that’s interesting. Turn up the volume on this pain information that’s coming in,’ " Linden says. "Or it can say, ‘Oh no — let’s turn down the volume on that and pay less attention to it.’ "

This ability to modulate pain explains the experiences of people like Dwayne Turner, an Army combat medic in Iraq who received the Silver Star for valor.

In 2003, Turner was unloading supplies when his unit came under attack. He was wounded by a grenade. "He took shrapnel in his leg, in his side — and he didn’t even notice that he had been hit," Linden says.

Despite his injuries, Turner began giving first aid and pulled other soldiers to safety. As he worked, he was shot twice — one bullet breaking a bone in his arm. Yet Turner would say later that he felt almost no pain.

"Soldiers in the heat of…

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Published by Causey Law Firm