Stormclouds
Oct 12, 2016
LEAD STORY
 
The United States Department of Labor (DOL) issued its long-awaited report on the condition of state-based workers' compensation systems. This 43-page report was prompted by a Congressional letter and an investigative journalism series produced by ProPublica and National Public Radio (NPR). Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez seeks to use this report as a platform for workers' compensation reform in the near term.
 
CONVERGING HIGH PRESSURE SYSTEMS
 
The DOL report is entitled "Does the Workers' Compensation System Fulfill its Obligations To Injured Workers?" The report contends that state legislatures have reduced medical and indemnity benefits for injured workers over the last decade in a so-called, "Race to the Bottom." The report concludes that this downturn in benefits seemingly shifted the human and economic cost of workplace accidents away from employers to workers, their families, and to other social benefit systems - including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Medicare, and health care provided under the Affordable Care Act.
 
A LONGER RANGE VIEW
 
The report offers three main recommendations. First, it contemplates a new national commission to study the workers' compensation system. Second, the report suggests federal tracking of changes in state workers' compensation programs. And lastly, the report calls for standards that would trigger increased federal oversight if state workers' compensation programs fail to meet those standards. 
 
TOMORROW'S FORECAST
 
Against the backdrop of the DOL report, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), one of the lawmakers who prompted the report, said this week he will seek to introduce legislation to address many of the findings laid out in the report and hopes to advance such measures in the next Congress. We're closely watching these D.C. developments.
 
THE SURGE
MATTHEW
 
Hurricane Matthew made landfall along the eastern seaboard from Florida to the Carolinas this week, claiming at least 29 lives and causing at least $4 billion in property damage in the United States. This comes after the storm ravaged parts of the Caribbean and Haiti, where Matthew claimed more than 1,000 lives and has exposed the island nation to significant ongoing risks, including cholera. Matthew was downgraded to a tropical storm and turned its record setting winds out to the Atlantic Ocean.
 
RESEARCHING THE SURGE
 
The scientific community is wrestling with the role of climate in record setting storms like Matthew. Among the swirling opinions, experts tend to agree that a major storm's surge is adversely affected by oceanic volume. In fact, the potential multiple effects of an earlier spring and polar thaw are the subject of continued research and observation among predictive meteorologists and geographers alike. We'll continue to track these emerging public/ private methods and predictors as scientific supplements to the more customary Waffle House modeling.
 
MAKING OUR WAY AROUND THE COUNTRY
ON THE HIGHWAYS
 
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released the preliminary estimates for traffic fatalities during the first half of 2016. The agency reports that 17,775 people died on the road, compared with 16,100 over the same period a year earlier. In an effort to combat a crisis on the roadways, the DOT and the National Safety Council announced a new coalition with the ambitious goal of eliminating traffic deaths and injuries in the United States within the next 30 years.
 
JUST OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY
 
As Washington, D.C., turned its attention to workers' compensation this week, the work of the state bureaus marched on just outside the Beltway. In Virginia, the commission selected to establish the Commonwealth's first workers' compensation fee schedule announced its time frame for delivery this week. The regulations implementing the fee schedules will become effective on January 1, 2018.
 
FURTHER DOWN THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
 
The Tennessee Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC), one of the country's newest administrative workers' compensation systems, announced certain key rule changes this week. Several of the changes (effective November 30th) impact the timing of responsive pleadings in hearing disputes, clarify the requirements for filing court papers during an alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and extend the time employers have to file a wage statement. Perhaps taking its cue from the U.S. DOL, the Tennessee BWC will also host an important conversation regarding the future of workers' compensation in the Volunteer State on Friday, October 21st in Nashville.
 
DAYS OF AWE
 
This evening marks the end of the Jewish High Holy Days known as Yamim Noraim or the "Days of Awe." As President Obama proclaimed earlier this month, "the Days of Awe are a time to hear a call from within to change." And, it may just be that feeling of awe itself that is our most powerful catalyst for change or even the very secret to health and happiness. This fall, as we conclude the Centennial year of the U.S. National Park Service, we stop to gaze at 59 images from our national, natural treasures. Awesome.

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