At least 23 people were killed and dozens injured this week when powerful tornadoes swept through parts of Alabama and Georgia. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp declared states of emergencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is leading search and rescue efforts across the affected areas. The National Weather Service (NWS) assessed the storm as an F4 on the Fujita Scale, with sustained wind speeds of between 158-206 mph. The tornado is the deadliest since 2013, when an F5 tornado killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma
BE A FORCE OF NATURE
This week’s severe weather event ranks among the deadliest tornado strikes in U.S. History. Municipalities, Schools, and businesses around the country are in the midst of Severe Weather Preparedness Week, part of a NWS initiative to drive severe weather awareness and create drills to help better prepare for the event of severe weather to strike. NWS is promoting its national campaign to encourage all Americans to have an emergency plan, become a Force of Nature, and remain vigilant about severe weather events and the climate surrounding them.
BE NOT COMPLACENT
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined more than 2 billion Twitter posts to understand the public's perception of climate change. Researchers concluded that people tend to generally accept extreme weather as normal within two years — the amount of time researchers concluded it takes people to base their idea of normal. The lead author of the study from University of California-Davis states, “although we are experiencing historically extreme conditions, they don't feel particularly unusual since people tend to forget what happened just a few years ago.”
Worldwide, severe winter weather caused $1 billion in economic losses and hundreds of millions in insured losses in the United States in January 2019, while the hottest temperatures on record, severe drought, and flooding combined to cause at least $57 million in insured losses in Australia. Considering industry sectors like trucking, severe weather events are responsible for more than 23% of all trucking delays, at a cost to the industry of more than $3.5 billion annually.
We have followed the severe path of damaging weather across parts of the U.S. this week. We are keeping all of those affected by the storms, and those who are still in harm’s way, in our thoughts.
The New Hampshire Department of Labor will launch an Opioid Pilot Mediation Program to voluntarily transition some injured workers away from opioids and into treatment. The goal is to bring together injured workers using opioids and insurance carriers through a mediation process to find covered options for non-narcotic pain relief and recovery. New Hampshire ranks among the top five states affected by opioid addiction. Under the pilot program, a meeting between the administrative judge and the parties is held within 30 days and a nurse is assigned to the case to help the injured worker find pain relief beyond addictive narcotics.
Beginning July 1st, the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation Board will no longer allow new prescriptions for the painkiller Oxycontin for injured workers. The board’s vote follows Ohio’s efforts to mitigate the opioid epidemic’s impact on Ohio’s workforce including: the creation of a pharmacy and therapeutics committee; the development of BWC’s first-ever formulary; and greater accountability for adverse prescribers. Between 2011 and 2018, the number of opioid doses prescribed in the BWC system fell 66%. We will keep tabs on these prescription drug changes.
Making Our Way Around the Country
MEDICARE SECONDARY PAYER
Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Provide Accurate Information Directly (PAID) Act. Lead Co-Sponsors Ron Kind (D-WI) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) aim to improve the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSP) by requiring the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to return beneficiary enrollment information in Part C Medicare Advantage and Part D plans to Non-Group Health Plan (NGHP) Responsible Reporting Entities (RREs). Currently, when an NGHP RRE queries an injured party's Medicare status, CMS solely returns enrollment information regarding Medicare Parts A and B. The measure would help the claims industry obtain timely and relevant information about claim payments and help resolve claims faster. We are pleased to have a capital view on the progress of this legislation.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that compensation to an injured railway worker qualifies as taxable wages. Reversing the appellate court’s ruling in favor of the employer, this week’s ruling allows railways to make a tax withholding for lost wages associated with work related injury claims. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, likened payments made to compensate an injury to sick pay or vacation pay under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act. We’ll keep an eye on this concept, which could be persuasive authority in other injury compensation frameworks.
The two-year transitional period under the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) Cybersecurity Regulation, 23 NYCRR 500, expired this week. Banks, insurers, and other financial services institutions and licensees covered by the regulation are now required to be in full compliance with the DFS rules, including the implementation of cybersecurity plans and policies and periodic reporting requirements. The DFS estimates that the new rules would affect around 1,900 banks and financial institutions, which altogether had at least $2.9 trillion in assets, and close to 1,700 insurance companies that have assets of more than $4.2 trillion.
GO OUT LIKE A LAMB
To all of our readers celebrating Ash Wednesday today, we wish you a blessed Lenten Season. And, if you are looking for something to “give up” over the next 40 days, check out a few challenging suggestions. Have a wonderful week, and we’ll be back to you next Wednesday.