Monday, January 28, 2008, 01:31 PM - Political developmentsThis afternoon is crunch time for the Schwarzenegger-Nunez healthcare reform package, ABX1. Last week's California Senate hearing on the bill was continued to this afternoon.
A few weeks ago it appeared that ABX1 might make it after all. The product of year-long negotiations and a "special session" of the legislature, ABX1 is supported by many major large employers and some
large unions as well as Kaiser and Blue Shield. In formal opposition are
employer groups representing smaller employers-restaurants, for example- and Blue Shield. Also in opposition are many progressives who question whether anything other than a single-payer Medicare type system will work. These advocates are concerned about the affordability of
insurance under ABX1 since the bill mandates that some individuals purchase coverage.
ABX1 had a major recent setback when the non-partisan California budget analyst issued a report questioning the financial assumptions of ABX1.
Soon, several wavering state senators announced their opposition-Leland Yee and Gloria Negrete McLeod. They join Sheila Kuehl, a single payer advocate, in opposing the bill. Senate Pro Tem Don Perata had announced he was taking a go slow approach til the budget analyst's report was issued.
And all of this is taking place in the shadow of next week's term limits initiative. According to analysis I've seen this morning of Field Poll results, the support for the term limits initiative has cratered. This would leave the Democratic legislative leadership of Fabian Nunez and Don Perata as lame ducks.
According to analysis done by Health Access California ( a group focusing on healthcare reform), the legislative analyst's report has a number of mistakes and faulty assumptions. Anthony Wright of Health Access California argues that ABX1 is not as risky as the LAO analysis would have indicated. Wright's article is significant and I encourage you to read it here:
http://www.californiaprogressreport.com ... is_pr.html
But we'll likely know in a few hours whether ABX1 has failed.
Saturday, January 26, 2008, 06:53 AM - Political developments(Note: the following is a workerscompzone series done by Julius Young while currently traveling in Asia)
"Country roads, take me home
To the place, I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads"
"Are you goin to San Francisco?
Be sure to wear a flower in your hair...."
Hearing those songs yesterday, I thought I shoulda had the top down in my convertible, breezin' on a sunny day to tunes from my favorite oldies station.
But not. I was in here in Guangzhou at the 5 story Baiyun Leather Trade Center, showroom for the world's fake luxury merchandise. Like the new Prada purse? They may not sell you just one, but if you're looking for hundreds, you've found your spot. And those guys selling fake stuff that you see at every street fair and outside major tourist spots-they were here yesterday, stocking up.
A word about Guangzhou. Accurate figures are hard to come by, but it's population is probably over 12 million (compare that to Los Angeles' 10 million). It's in Guandong province, home to aproximately 70 million (compare that to 37 million for California in 2006).
There's some talk that Guangzhou needs to discourage in-migration of folks from China's interior in order to save itself from environmental disaster. Some have suggested restructuring industry to discourage the low-skill
manufacturing and assembly jobs in the area that are a magnet for the rural poor of central China.
The old adage is that for Shanghai folks, you are what you
wear. For Guanzhou, you are what you eat. Cantonese cuisine is some of the most prized in China. It is great-particularly dim sum, which is Cantonese- though I have a problem with eating the snake,the wriggling baby eels, shark fin and the other more exotic stuff.
Between here and Hong Kong is a major trade-zone megaopolis, Shenzen, as well as scads of major new development. Last night I visited a planned community, Clifford Estates, that has a feel not unlike parts of Rancho Mirage. Lots of shopping centers with department stores, hotels or "big-box" stores as anchor tenants. Some house prices have doubled. Sound like parts of California before the recent bubble burst?
In old Guangzhou, just blocks from the White Swan Hotel where Nixon stayed when he opened relations with China, thousands of teens and twentysomethings in a shopping frenzy. These kids are much more interested in Milan and Hollywood clothing styles-and in partying-than in being a member of a political party.
I wanted to share some of my impressions here.But I digress from the labor focus of this blog....
Chinese labor policy has been undergoing big change over the last year, with the enactment of a labor law making it more difficult to fire workers. Some major U.S. corporations opposed this, as did Taiwanese and other offshore owners who set up manufacturing facilities in China, particularly in Guandong.
At year end there was some "push back", as authorities in the Dongguan area (near Guangzhou) adopted some modified regulations weaking the new labor law. So it's possible that this region of southeastern China will be the area where workplace trends and rules are ironed out.
There's more detail I want to cover on these developments in Chinese labor policy, but I've been moving around so much that I'll save that for some stateside posts. We live in a global economy-like it or not, it's not going away. I find it interesting to know how the people who make the merchandise we buy are treated in their factories.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008, 07:18 PM - Political developmentsA couple of developments in the last few days worth noting
(from afar: I'm in Guandong province, China, but more on that later).
In LA County Superior court the trial judge ruled in favor of the insurers in a suit brought by the "new" Albertson's. At issue is the interpretation of excess policy coverage and what it takes in terms of injury or occurrence to trigger the excess policy coverage. Wexford, adjusting for CNA and TIG, took the position that each injury must be dealt with separately. Albertson's invoked the Wilkinson case (recently disapproved by the WCAB in the Benson case) to bolster its position.
The court's decision will undoubtedly be appealed. But for the moment excess carriers can celebrate a result which lowers their risk.
Also catching my eye from afar is the impending California Senate hearing on ABX1, the Schwarzenegger-Nunez healthcare reform package. According to today's San Francisco Chronicle, State Senator Leland Yee will oppose the bill. Yee's opposition (along with that of State Senator Sheila Kuehl, who like Yee, favors a single-payer Medicare type plan) may leave the bill without sufficient votes in committee. ABX1 is unlikely to garner any Republican votes. Yee apparently has concerns about requiring individuals to purchase insurance under a plan that does not sufficiently regulate what insurers can charge for their product.
But back to Guandong. I'm here, in Jiangmen, China. It's a 2 hour hydrofoil ferry from Hong Kong, up one of the tributaries of the massive Pearl River (will someone remind me why there is no hydrofoil service between San Francisco and Sacramento, which is a similar distance?)
I counted at least 4 bridges over the Pearl River that were built since I was here a couple of years ago.
Jiangmen is one of the Chinese cities with millions of people that you've never heard of. Parts of it remind me of Pleasanton or Santa Clarita. Broad boulevards, new office parks. But the modern hotel has a farm collective out back-perhaps 10 acres of vegetable pots, a small lake, a handful of wooden shacks and sheds.
New autos everywhere. Department stores not too different from Mervyn's or Sears. Not that everyone's buying all that much.
This is the modern China. Guandong is one of the coastal provinces that have been the most economically successful
in China. It's one of the first provinces that benefited from the outsourcing of American jobs.Workers from interior provinces continue to migrate to the coastal provinces.
Still, wages here are extremely low. Today I saw an ad wanting a forklift driver at 750-1,000 RMB per month. That's about $125 per month when converted into U.S. dollars.
Chinese labor law issues and worker rights is a complicated subject. From time to time I'll be posting on international worker rights issues. But today I thought I'd share with you some article titles I noted while browsing a Chinese magazine waiting to use this computer terminal. These article titles (from "Skylife" magazine) may tell you a lot about the aspirations and trends in China today:
"Pursue the harmonious inhabitancy"
"Construct infinite life"
"Mature the mechanism of operation"
"Residence by the river"
"The experience in the French palace"
"The kitchen likes a living room"
"We must be international"
"We need originality"
"Chinese style beyond the world"
"Not only to satisfy foreigners"
"From crossover to international"
"The importance of approving and comprehending"
"New homes in the urban"
"Good design needs innovation"
"Brand, relating to life"
"To shape prize brands"
"May life live with wine"
Stay tuned. I'll be doing one more post from Asia-probably from Guangzhou (Canton), China before returning to the Golden State.
Saturday, January 19, 2008, 03:14 AM - Political developmentsReaders of my last post know that I'll currently in Indo-China. Northwest Cambodia, specifically, at the moment.
Looking across the Pacific, the past week seems to have been a sleepy one in California workers'comp. The biggest development is that the California Court of Appeal 1st District has agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to the 24 session cap on chiropractic & physical therapy treatments (caution: 2007 legislation loosened the caps in post surgical cases). More on that constitutional challenge at a later time.
Back to Cambodia for the moment, though. The country is emerging from a long nightmare of genocide and war. A short history for those who might be interested: Over a million people perished at the hand of the Khymer Rouge in the mid to late 70s. The Khymer Rouge had been a leftist insurgency against Prince Sihanouk. Under Nixon the U.S. backed Lon Nol's installation in power. Nixon expanded the war into Cambodia, dropping huges amounts of ordnance on Viet Cong supply routes in what became the "sideshow war"" (a 3rd ring of the circus was unfolding in Laos, of course).
My cousin, an American helicopter pilot, perished in the early days of the U.S. incursion into Cambodia.
In 1975 the capital, Phnom Penh, fell to the Khymer Rouge.
If you've seen the film The Killing Fields", you know what occured.Phnom Penh was reduced to a population of a few thousand as everyone was forced into the countryside. Intellectuals, professionals, labor activists, journalists-all perished as the Khmer attempted to take the country back to an agrarian ground zero.
From the late 70's to the late 80's the Chinese-backed Khymer Rouge were at war with the Vietnamese. The country became one big land mine dump.
Here (unlike much of Asia) you can see beautiful blue sky. The countryside is pristine, unspoilt by the kind of breakneck development devouring much of Asia. On such a pretty day, amidst 10th to 12th century Hindu and Buddhist temples and people with such graceful, warm smiles, it's hard to believe Cambodia went through such travails.
The country now has at least the trappings of democracy. There are elections, although a strong-man President and crony politicians seemingly dominate at this time. Some of the Khymer Rouge are still hanging around, and a justice process proceeds slowly.
To this day workers, children, and farmers are getting maimed and killed by tripping landmines. Several international foundations are working on the problem, but it's a big country and there were hundreds of thousands of mines.
Which brings us to workers comp. My guide noted that several workers building a Bangkok to Phnom Penh highway
were killed in the last several weeks after their truck came in contact with a buried land mine.
My guide is a bright young 22 year old with fluent English. He's the future of Cambodia. After all, pretty much everyone here is young, gen-next or gen-X. By and large the older people just didn't make it.
He's not a lawyer, so I can't say this is definitive.
But I asked him what happens if you're hurt or killed on the job here. Does the government fund medical care and some sort of wage replacement benefits for injured workers? The answer? No.
Apparently there's no workers comp system. Nothing.
Thursday, January 17, 2008, 04:06 AM - Political developmentsToday (January 17) the DWC will be holding hearings in Oakland on proposed revisions to the QME regs. The hearing is slated to begin at 10 am in the auditorium of the Elihu Harris State Building.
Changes in the QME regs are being watched closely by all major workers'comp stakeholders. Under current law, QMEs wield tremendous power in California's comp system. Disputed issues over medical treatment, disability status and permanent disability rating are resolved by QMEs.
The number of QMEs doing evaluations has dropped considerably. Meanwhile, there's been growth of mega-evaluation groups that have doctors available with offices all over the place. In a post last year I noted that one of Boxer & Gerson's clients was sent to panel QME evaluation at a tanning salon.
The proposed regs would tighten up some-but not enough-on abuses by doctors gaming the system with muliple evaluation locations to advance their doc in the box business.
Few of the more experienced, thoughtful QMEs (many of whom are members of CSIMS, the California professional organization for industrial medicine examiners)are signed up with these groups.As a result, many lawyers and judges believe that the quality of medical-legal evaluations in California has declined at the very time when the legal issues have become more complex in comp cases.
I'll continue covering the issue, albeit on a reduced schedule over the next week. I'm currently posting this from an internet cafe in Siem Reap, Cambodia where I'm visiting the Angkor Wat, the 12th century Hindu/Buddhist temple complex that's on the short list of the world's top architectural treasures. Think Laura Croft Tomb Raider.