N.J. man’s medical marijuana should be paid by workers’ comp, judge says

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

TRENTON — A south Jersey man injured on the job at a lumber company will have his medical marijuana tab paid by his employer’s workers compensation insurance, according to a state administrative law judge ruling in what appears to be the first decision of its kind in the state.

Andrew Watson of Egg Harbor Township qualified for the state’s medicinal marijuana program in 2014 because of a hand injury he suffered while working for 84 Lumber in Pleasantville, according to the administrative law judge’s ruling.

Watson bought 2-1/4 ounces of state-sanctioned marijuana in the spring of 2014 but when his employer refused to pay, he stopped using it, according to the ruling.

The price of one ounce of cannabis ranges from $425 to $520 for an average of $489 in the Garden State, not counting the 7 percent state sales tax, according to a state Health Department analysis. At those prices, New Jersey’s medical pot is the most expensive in the nation. The law does not require insurance to cover the expense.

Why new wave of patients signing up for medical marijuana

Administrative Law Judge Ingrid L. French said based on Watson’s testimony, "the effects of the marijuana, in many ways, is not as debilitating as the effects of the Percocet. The pharmacy records show that, ultimately (Watson) was able to reduce his use of oral narcotic medication."

"As a result of his improved pain management, he has achieved a greater level of functionality," according to the judge,…

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Removing The Safety Net: A National Trend Of Benefit Reductions For Injured Workers

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Benefits for injured workers continue to be under attack throughout the country. In New York, there have been a number of changes in the last decade, all in the name of reform. These reforms were encouraging at first as they increased the weekly benefits for some higher wage-earning injured workers for the first time in decades. They also created medical treatment guidelines under the guise of allowing injured workers to obtain pre-approval on certain medical treatments and procedures. 

Unfortunately, the changes also resulted in reduction of benefits for many injured workers. Monetary benefits were capped, so injured workers deemed partially disabled could only receive a certain number of weeks of benefits regardless of their ability to return to their pre-injury jobs. The determination of the degree of disability has become a battle involving multiple, lengthy depositions of medical witnesses where the outcome is how long injured workers get wage replacement or whether they receive lifetime benefits. The criteria is not whether injured workers can return to their prior employment, but whether they are capable of performing any work at all, regardless of their past job experience or education. The battle is not limited to the amount of weeks of benefits injured workers can receive, however. The medical treatment guidelines, touted as getting injured workers prompt medical treatment, discounts the fact that if the requested treatment is not listed within the guidelines, it is denied and the burden is placed upon injured workers and their treating doctors to prove the requested treatment is necessary.

Other changes designed to cut administrative costs and court personnel include reducing the number of hearings held, thereby denying injured workers due process. There also has been a reduction in the number of presiding judges, and in many hearing locations the judges are not even at the site but are conducting hearings through video conferencing. At the end of October, the Board announced a new procedure authorizing the insurance carrier to request a hearing on whether injured workers should be weaned off of opioids that are used by many medical providers to treat chronic pain. While everyone would agree that the misuse of prescription pain medication is an epidemic in this country, many question whether the insurance industry really has the injured workers’ best interest at heart.    

As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 26 years, I have seen many workers successfully transition from injured worker back into the labor market. It is very encouraging to note that for many people the system has worked. They receive their treatment, which may involve physical therapy, surgery, pain management, prescription therapy, or whatever else their treating physician recommends. They are paid a portion of their prior income and after a period of convalescence, they are able to return to work. Some injured workers, however, are not so lucky. The decisions about what happens to those unable to work have been left to those who seem to care more about business and insurance industry profits. 

Just about one year ago, 14 people were killed and 22 more injured when ISIS-inspired terrorists went on a shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California. The nation and the world were horrified to hear about this tragedy and the story was in the news for many weeks. Now a year has gone by and many of the survivors have complained about treatment being denied and prescription medication being cut off.  While many injuries happen quietly without the headlines seen in the California attack, there are many similarities. It seems that when an initial injury occurs, there are many good protections and benefits in place. However, as time goes on and costs increase, injured workers are looked upon as enemies to defeat or to forget about. Unfortunately for injured workers and their families, they don’t have this luxury and they don’t have the means to fight.

Most people don’t think it will ever happen to them. That is what most of my clients have thought as well.

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717. 

 

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Jay Causey + Brian Wright = Causey Wright!

January 2017 brings us a new firm identity – Causey Wright.  After 19 years, Causey Law Firm is transforming.

Brian Wright will lead the team with our active workers’ compensation practice, working with attorneys Jane Dale and Reed Johnson.  Jay Causey will provide oversight while retiring from case management.  

Jay has separately formed Causey Mediation, housed within the walls of Causey Wright, to continue to provide mediation services to parties involved in Longshore and Harbor Worker, Defense Base Act and Workers’ Compensation cases.

Three cheers for Causey Wright!

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Vinyl Chloride Exposure and Cancer

Today’s post comes from guest author Anthony L. Lucas, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas that is used primarily to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is used to make plastic products ranging from pipes to packaging materials.

 

Workers are primarily exposed to vinyl chloride through inhalation in facilities where vinyl chloride is produced or used. Exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride around 10,000 ppm can cause a person to feel dizzy or sleepy. At around 25,000 ppm, a person may pass out. Breathing fresh air will help a person recover from these episodes. However, long-term exposure to vinyl chloride can cause serious health problems including Raynaud’s phenomenon (fingers blanch, numbness and discomfort when exposed to the cold), liver damage, liver cancer (hepatic angiosarcoma), brain and lung cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia.

 

Recovery for workers injured from exposure to vinyl chloride is more successful when the worker has been diagnosed with angiosarcoma of the liver because several studies have shown that it is causally associated with occupational exposure to vinyl chloride. While vinyl chloride exposure has been linked to other types of cancer, recovery may be prevented because it is more difficult to prove causation.

Cannabis > Opioids?

Today’s post was shared by WC CompNewsNetwork and comes from www.workerscompensation.com

The title of an article published in the Santa Fe New Mexican on November 4 certainly piqued my interest – "Advisory panel backs medical cannabis as tool in opioid war." While not binding or official until the Health Secretary decides how to proceed, the advisory board to the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program voted 5-1 to add "opiate use disorder" to the list of qualifying conditions. Let that sink in for a little bit.

The proposal drew support from health professionals, addiction specialists and lawmakers. Medical Advisory Board Chairman Dr. Mitch Simson cast the only vote against adding opioid addiction to the cannabis program, saying he was concerned about substituting one addiction for another.

So there you have it, the argument distilled into two simple sentences. Can cannabis help resolve our opioid epidemic? Or are we just trading one problem for another?

I heard this argument when lobbying for HB 195 earlier this year in Santa Fe that would have removed the case precedent requirement for Work Comp to reimburse injured workers for medical cannabis. On both "sides". Opponents of the bill made the argument that opioids are dangerous (I’ve been preaching that since 2003) and that cannabis could help resolve the epidemic. Proponents of the bill were mostly focused on the financial and legal repercussions but there certainly were concerns about sanctioning marijuana use by reimbursement.

I was quoted in a WorkCompCentral article today

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WA Workers’ Comp Rates for 2017 will Increase <1 percent

The average premium for workers’ compensation coverage in Washington will go up less than 1 percent in 2017. On November 30th, the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) announced the rate will rise by an average of 0.7 percent next year.

The 2017 increase will cost employers on average about $10 more a year per employee. Most workers will not see an increase in what they pay.

Employers and workers around Washington pay into the workers’ comp system so they’re covered if someone suffers a work-related injury or illness. Last year, L&I covered nearly 93,000 claims in our state.

“We’ve improved the support we provide to injured workers, and I’m pleased to say we’re seeing tangible, positive results,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks.“Injured workers are able to stay at work or return to work faster, and the number of workers on long-term disability is dropping. That’s good for employees and employers, and it helps us hold down costs.”

L&I sets rates every fall for the following year. Workers’ compensation premiums help pay for wage and disability benefits, as well as medical treatment of injuries and illnesses. They also provide a safety net to make sure the system is prepared for the unexpected.

There are several factors that help determine rates, including expected workers’ compensation payouts, the size of the reserve fund, wage inflation and other financial indicators. Over the past six years, the average annual workers’ compensation rate increase has been just over 1 percent.

Helping workers recover and reducing costs

Reducing costs of the workers’ compensation system helps keep premium rates steady and predictable. Over the last three years, L&I’s work to promote injury prevention, provide injured workers vocational services, ensure quality health care and support employers has helped reduce projected long-term costs by more than $700 million.

In September, L&I proposed the 0.7 percent rate increase and then took public input on the plan. The agency held public hearings around the state and also took comments online and by mail before making the final decision. 

The new rates take effect January 1. There’s more information at www.Lni.wa.gov/Rates.

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Workers’ Comp Facts:

  • L&I is the state’s primary workers’ compensation insurance provider, covering about 2.6 million workers and more than 170,000 employers.
  • An individual employer’s actual rate change may vary depending on that employer’s industry and history of claims that result in wage replacement and/or disability benefits.
  • More than 90,000 claims are accepted each year through the Washington State Workers’ Compensation State Fund. 

Photo credit: damonjah via Foter.com / CC BY

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WA Minimum Wage Climbing to $11 in 2017; Paid Sick Leave Starting in 2018

The minimum wage in Washington will increase to $11 an hour starting on Jan. 1, 2017. The new minimum wage, a result of the passage of Initiative 1433 in November’s election, applies to all jobs, including those in agriculture. Workers under 16 years old can be paid 85 percent of the adult minimum wage, or $9.35 per hour, in 2017. In addition to minimum wage, the initiative addresses paid sick leave.

Seattle, Tacoma, and the City of SeaTac have higher minimum wage rates for 2017. For employers in those areas, the local minimum wage rate will apply as long as it is higher than the state minimum. The new law does not change minimum wage exemptions or regulations regarding overtime pay.

Since 1998, L&I has been responsible for calculating the state’s minimum wage each September. Under Initiative 1433, the minimum wage will increase to $13.50 by 2020. L&I will resume calculating the minimum wage for calendar years 2021 and beyond.

Paid sick leave starting in 2018

Along with increasing the state minimum wage, the initiative requires employers to provide paid sick leave starting Jan. 1, 2018.

Under the initiative, L&I must adopt rules to enforce the new requirement, including, “…procedures for notification to employees and reporting regarding sick leave, and protecting employees from retaliation for the lawful use of sick leave…”

The official rulemaking process, which will include public comment opportunities, will take place in 2017. Interested parties can sign up for updates on the process on L&I’s Employment Standards Program listserv.

L&I enforces the state’s wage-and-hour laws. The agency investigates all wage-payment complaints. More information on Washington’s minimum wage is available on L&I’s wage and hour webpage. Employers and workers may also call 360-902-5316 or 1-866-219-7321.

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions

 

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Dollar Tree Store Cited and Fined for Willfully Exposing Workers to Safety Hazards

Note: A quick Google search led me to Glassdoor’s page covering Dollar Tree stores.  Many photos, mostly posted by managers and bemoaning their impossible working conditions, clearly show that the problem identified in Washington is widespread. The caption for the above photo reads “3,000 cartons in per week…” – kc

Dollar Tree Stores Inc., faces a $145,200 fine for workplace safety violations that knowingly put workers at risk.

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) recently cited the Virginia-based employer after an inspection at its Aberdeen store found serious, repeat safety hazards.

The company was cited for two willful safety violations, each with the maximum legal penalty of $70,000. Dollar Tree also received a $5,200 fine for a repeat-serious violation. The employer was previously cited for the same violations at its Chehalis location.

The first willful violation was for storing merchandise in a way that created a serious hazard. The inspection found the storage room was a crowded jumble of stacked boxes, bundles and containers that weren’t secured and could topple over at any moment. The haphazard stacks stood as high as nine feet, with heavy boxes piled on top of light ones. Some were leaning due to collapsed boxes or crushed corners.

Improperly stored merchandise can fall on employees causing serious injuries including contusions, broken bones, concussions or even death if the boxes cause an employee to fall and strike their head on the floor. Additionally, lifting heavy boxes into nine-foot stacks is likely to cause strains and sprains or serious back injuries.

The second willful violation cited was for not ensuring that exit routes were free of obstructions. At the time of the inspection, several aisles and passageways were blocked with merchandise. Employees did not have clear paths to emergency exits, and a doorway with two swinging doors couldn’t be exited because it was obstructed by stacks of merchandise or carts full of products.

In addition, there were hazardous products stored in the area, including helium cylinders that are explosive when heated, lighters, and plastic merchandise that would emit toxic fumes in a fire, increasing the danger to employees.

Dollar Tree was cited for a repeat-serious violation for not installing protective guarding or covers over light fixtures that could be struck and broken by the stacked merchandise. Breakage of overhead bulbs is likely to cause eye injuries or cuts from falling glass.

A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition. A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule.

The employer had 15 business days to appeal the citation.

Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

Photo credit: Glassdoor submission

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Labor Report Urges Study Of A Federal Role In State Workers’ Comp Laws

Howard Berkes and Michael Grabell have been investigating the decline of workers compensation for Pro Publica and NPR.

Today’s post comes from guest author Edgar Romano, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Howard Berkes and Michael Grabell have been shining a light on the deterioration of state workers’ compensation benefits over the last decade. A new U.S. Department of Labor report bolsters their investigative journalism, noting that those hurt on the job are at “great risk of falling into poverty” because state workers’ compensation systems are failing to provide them with adequate benefits.

The Workers Injury Litigation Group (WILG) has been fighting against this decline for 20 years, and we will continue to advocate for fair benefits for injured workers. The following is a summary of Mr. Berkes and Grabell’s recent article:

A “race to the bottom” in state workers’ compensation laws has the Labor Department calling for “exploration” of federal oversight and federal minimum benefits.

“Working people are at great risk of falling into poverty,” the agency says in a new report on changes in state workers’ comp laws. Those changes have resulted in “the failure of state workers’ compensation systems to provide [injured workers] with adequate benefits.”

In the last decade, the report notes, states across the country have enacted new laws, policies and procedures “which have limited benefits, reduced the likelihood of successful application for workers’ compensation benefits, and/or discouraged injured workers from applying for benefits.”

The 44-page report was prompted by a letter last fall from 10 prominent Democratic lawmakers, who urged Labor Department action to protect injured workers in the wake of a ProPublica/NPR series on changes in workers’ comp laws in 33 states.

The ProPublica/NPR stories featured injured workers who lost their homes, were denied surgeries or were even denied prosthetic devices recommended by their doctors.

A “race to the bottom” in state workers’ compensation laws has the Labor Department calling for “exploration” of federal oversight and federal minimum benefits.

“Working people are at great risk of falling into poverty,” the agency says in a new report on changes in state workers’ comp laws. Those changes have resulted in “the failure of state workers’ compensation systems to provide [injured workers] with adequate benefits.”

In the last decade, the report notes, states across the country have enacted new laws, policies and procedures “which have limited benefits, reduced the likelihood of successful application for workers’ compensation benefits, and/or discouraged injured workers from applying for benefits.”

The 44-page report was prompted by a letter last fall from 10 prominent Democratic lawmakers, who urged Labor Department action to protect injured workers in the wake of a ProPublica/NPR series on changes in workers’ comp laws in 33 states.

The ProPublica/NPR stories featured injured workers who lost their homes, were denied surgeries or were even denied prosthetic devices recommended by their doctors.

“The current situation warrants a significant change in approach in order to address the inadequacies of the system,” the report says.

That’s where federal intervention comes in. The Labor Department calls for “exploration” of “the establishment of standards that would trigger increased federal oversight if workers’ compensation programs fail to meet those standards.”

The agency also suggests a fresh look at reestablishing a 1972 Nixon administration commission that recommended minimum benefits and urged Congress to act if states failed to comply.

“In this critical area of the social safety net, the federal government has basically abdicated any responsibility,” says Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

Without minimum federal standards for workers’ comp benefits, Perez adds, the current system “is really putting workers who are hurt on the job on a pathway to poverty.”

Prior to the report’s release, employers, insurance companies and others involved in workers’ comp programs expressed alarm at the possibility of federal intervention.

“There has never been federal ‘oversight of state workers’ compensation programs’,” says a statement posted on the website of a group called Strategic Services on Unemployment and Workers’ Compensation, which says it represents the workers’ comp interests of the business community.

“Federal requirements imposed on a national basis would be inconsistent with the state workers’ compensation system, which has been in place for more than 100 years without federal oversight,” the group wrote.

Federal minimum benefits could ensure that injured workers across the country would not receive lesser benefits for often shorter periods of time simply because they lived in a state where lawmakers dramatically cut workers’ comp costs for employers.

“This is a system with no federal minimum standards and absolutely no federal oversight,” says Deborah Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the National Employment Law Project. “Clearly, more federal oversight is necessary to assure that that this system works for those most in need of assistance.”

No direct administrative or legislative action is proposed in the report, but Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, says he’s “drafting legislation to address many of the troubling findings laid out in this report and will be working with my colleagues to advance it in the next Congress.” 

Brown echoes Perez, saying injuries on the job shouldn’t force workers into poverty.

“But without a basic standard for workers compensation programs, that’s exactly what’s happening in too many states across the country,” Brown adds. 

Another incentive for federal involvement, the report notes, is a shift of billions of dollars in workplace injury costs to taxpayers when state workers’ comp benefits fall short and workers are forced to turn to Medicare and Social Security for treatment and lost wages.

The report lays the groundwork for federal intervention by providing an extensive section detailing the government’s role in promoting national benefits standards in both Republican and Democratic administrations dating back to 1939.

But many in the workers’ comp world consider workplace injury policy and regulation a states’ right and any prospect of a controlling federal role will likely face stiff resistance.

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Federal “Takeover” of Work Comp?

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

State workers’ compensation laws are facing increased scrutiny from the federal government.  As reported by NPR, the U.S. Labor Department is exploring the idea of further oversight of state-run workers’ compensation systems.  The full Labor Department report can be found here.

Traditionally, beginning with Wisconsin in 1911, individual states enacted, amended, and ran their own workers’ compensation system.  These systems certainly shared the similar overall framework of the “grand bargain” of work comp: an inability to sue an employer in exchange for defined benefits without proviing fault.  Within this framework, though, the state-led process allowed each state to tailor its approach in line with the industries of their state and particular legislative goals.

However, in the past decade or so, state legislative enactments around the country have significantly reduced (and in some cases, slashed) worker’s compensation benefits for injured workers.  A deep dive on the effect of these efforts was revealed in a series of stories by ProPublica and NPR.  The new Labor Department report echoes the refrain of these stories–indicating:

Despite the sizable cost of workers’ compensation, only a small portion of the costs of occupational injury and illness is borne by the employer. 

Costs are inappropriately shifted to the worker, their families, and the government (through other benefit programs).

Furthermore, with lowering costs on employers for workplace injuries, those employers–especially “high hazard employers”–have less incentives for safety or preventing injuries in the first place.  

As such, the Labor Department suggested the need to explore federal oversight or minimum federal standards for state workers’ compensation laws.  It even suggests the potential to reconvene a national commission–last seen in the 1970s–to study state workers’ compensation systems.  Any of these proposals would be major sea changes to the traditional state-led approach.

Whether any of these proposals will move forward is unknown, but one fact remains: based on legislative attempts to reduce injured workers’ benefits, the state-led workers’ compensation systems face increased scrutiny.   Pushed too far against workers, these laws face constitutional challenges–and ultimately the threat of federal oversight or takeover.

 

 

Published by Causey Wright