Monday, November 9, 2009, 09:23 PM - Political developmentsI love arcade games.
Show me a skeeball machine and I'm a happy camper. It's worth the drive to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk just for that.
Pac Man? Say no more. A good pinball machine is heaven. Table shuffleboard? Spent many hours playing at a local Oakland watering hole, The Kingfish.
But a good game of wac-a-mole is difficult to beat.
California Insurance Commisioner (and GOP gubernatorial candidate) Steve Poizner continues to play a good game of whac-a-mole.
Today comes his announcement that he is AGAIN denying the WCIRB's request for a hike in comp insurance rates. The WCIRB had recommended a 22.8% rate increase, effective January 2010.
Whether politically tinged or not, it's a stunning rejection of the insurance industry's attempt to justify higher comp rates. Poizner continues to believe that the industry has not made the case for increasing rates.
The industry (and WCIRB) has been pushing for an increase in the recommended "pure premium rate". That rate, set by the Insurance Commissioner, is not binding on carriers but does set a tone for the industry and is watched as a barometer of trends in the industry.
Poizner was not about to be stampeded by unsubstantiated fears that the recent Almaraz/Guzman and Ogilvie WCAB decisions would create major systemic cost increases. He noted that there were differing assessments of the impact of those decisions and lack of actual data to back up the claim that those decisions would have a major impact on comp costs.
Poizner's refusal to endorse an upward adjustment to comp rates due to Almaraz/Guzman/Ogilvie would perhaps appear to take some wind out of the sails of those stakeholders who have recently negotiated behind closed doors to reverse Almaraz/Guzman (by changes to Labor Code 4600 (b)(1)) and Ogilvie (by changes to Labor Code 4600(b)(1)) in exchange for other systemic changes. If the Insurance Commissioner does not believe the case has been made, it may be a hard sell to convince Democratic party politicians to get aboard a train which would shut the door on Almaraz/Guzman/Ogilvie arguments in the fashion envisioned in the draft CHSWC just released.
Assembly and Senate Democrats who are mindful of the interests of injured workers will want to carefully scrutinize the sort of approach that was being brokered with the help of CHSWC staff. More data on the effect of the WCAB decisions will need to be gathered before disabled workers can be asked to endure more take aways.
Poizner believes that the insurance industry is not doing enough to control costs or increase efficiency.
Here's Poizner's statement:
http://www.insurance.ca.gov/0400-news/0 ... 171-09.cfm
Poizner noted that the pure premium cost benchmark is down 63.4% since its high in 2003.
It's worth keeping in mind that payments to or on behalf of injured workers have been less than half of premiums paid since the 04 reforms. That figure was noted by UC Berkeley Professor Frank Neuhauser in a recent presentation to CHSWC. Neuhauser noted that "using detailed data on California workers' compensation insurance we calculate that the administrative overhead accounts for 50-60% of premiums":
http://www.dir.ca.gov/chswc/Reports/200 ... n_2009.pdf
The actual Poizner rate filing decision can be accessed here:
http://www.insurance.ca.gov/0400-news/0 ... 091109.PDF
Saturday, November 7, 2009, 10:24 PM - Political developmentsToday is a historic day. The House of Representatives has voted tonight to move forward with a healthcare reform package.
The bill, which comes in at over 1500 pages, will not be the final version. Indeed, a number of House yes votes were cast specifically to advance the bill in hopes that a better version will emerge in the Senate or in conference.
Still to be explored: the cost of the package, how it will be financed, and whether it will bend the healthcare cost curve. Those issues are critical, of course.
But tonight is a great day for millions of Americans who can't get coverage or who live in fear of losing their coverage. There is a beacon of hope for them.
I can think of a number of friends who can't afford to move or change jobs for fear of losing their health coverage. With pre-existing health conditions, they rightly figure that they would be rejected by cherry picking private health insurers.
Many disabled workers find themselves in this group. No longer covered by their employer, they cannot get coverage (even if they could pay for it under COBRA, which they can't usually afford). They must delay needed treatments. When they find themselves dreadfully ill, the emergency room is the only option.
And I suspect many of us know young adults who need coverage, but can't find healthcare coverage (or a job) in an economy where the combined unemployment and underemployment is over 17%.
So ultimately this is a very personal issue.
To the extent that the tea-party folks wanted to do nothing, that's
So the President ekes out a victory in this vote tonight. As Obama noted in a pitch to House Democrats, delay or failure would simply embolden the tea-partiers.
Clearly, the public is uneasy with the cost of it all and the expansion of entitlement programs. But the public also wants change, and an end to gridlock. So the vote was an act of faith and courage.
It all now moves to the Senate.
Thursday, November 5, 2009, 11:02 AM - Political developmentsCHSWC has now released documents detailing negotiations between certain employers (including Sean McNally of Grimmway Farms, a CHSWC member) and some labor advocates, including Angie Wei of the California Labor Federation, a CHSWC member).
These documents have been promised since a recent CHSWC vote. DIR Director John Duncan requested that they be released.
Stakeholders in California workers' comp will be analyzing these documents carefully in the coming days.
It's not clear yet how close the negotiating parties were to a deal they could live with. And it's not clear yet how many other stakeholders and interested parties (not to mention politicians) the negotiators would have been (or are able to) bring along with them in forming a deal.
It is clear that significant CHSWC staff support was given to these negotiations.
Here are the documents for you to read:
Here's the introductory letter:
http://www.dir.ca.gov/CHSWC/LaborEmploy ... 202009.pdf
Here's a CHSWC staff report:
http://www.dir.ca.gov/CHSWC/LaborEmploy ... ssions.pdf
Here's draft legislative language:
http://www.dir.ca.gov/CHSWC/LaborEmploy ... ussion.pdf
Wednesday, November 4, 2009, 10:20 PM - Political developmentsGovernor Schwarzenegger has now signed SB 313, a bill which increases penalties for failure to provide workers' comp coverage.
Sponsored by State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, SB 313 will allow penalties of double the monies that would have been paid as premiums by the employer.
Here's my recent post on the bill:
http://workerscompzone.com/index.php?en ... 019-225849
Employer fraud is now a major problem in the comp system. Dishonest employers seek to cut corners, particularly in the sort of industries that hire lots of immigrant service workers. These employers often gain an unfair competitive advantage. And poorly informed employees who are injured are forced to seek treatment at the public's expense when they find that the employer had no insurance.
In the past week there was yet another crackdown on scofflaw car washes. 49 car washes were cited for not carrying workers' comp insurance. Many of these car washes were also cited for other labor law violations.
John Duncan, Director of the Department of Industrial Relations, is quoted (in an article by Greg Griggs on workcompcentral.com) as noting that ...."we found that 12% of California employers are uninsured. This is really frightening and contributes to an increase in workers' comp costs for everyone."
I've been noting this for several years now. Here's my post, "It's the Employer Fraud, Stupid":
http://workerscompzone.com/index.php?en ... 818-110358
Supporters of SB 313 run the gamut from big labor unions to small business advocates.
If anything, one has to wonder whether the penalties are still too small.
The new penalties will probably help deter large employers from skipping comp coverage. But smaller employers may still be willing to run the risk. SB 313 is a great bill. Time will tell whether the penalties need to be hiked much higher, though.
In the meanwhile, it's good to see system stakeholders come together to address a major systemic problem.
Thanks and congratulations are due to all those who helped clear the path for passage of SB 313.
The text of the bill can be found here:
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bil ... rolled.pdf
Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 09:01 PM - Political developmentsWe're in a blue state, aren't we?
What's the fuss over Republican resurgence in Virginia and New Jersey?
Today's election results won't have any direct impact on the workers and various "stakeholders" we call the workers' comp community. But it will have impact on issues that affect workers. More about that in a minute.
It's clear that the political landscape is shifting again. The misty eyed rhetoric about change and "we are the ones that we have been waiting for" has faded. The coalition of minorities, the young, labor, independents and the left which elected Obama did not show up today in massive numbers. Democrats lost control of the New Jersey and Virginia governorships as well as a number of down ballot races.
Recent polling has shown that many independent voters are shifting away from Obama, and there may be problems with older voters who are concerned about their Medicare benefits.
So this is the lay of the land as we head toward the end of the year. Mid term elections are just a year away, and incumbents will be looking carefully at their own prospects for re-election. Charlie Cook, a Washington political observer, has noted the possibility of a Republican Congressional tidal wave in 2010
Here is a short laundry list of worker issues that may be affected by the shifting national political landscape:
Today Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed to signal that a vote on healthcare reform may not happen until early next year. Reid has endorsed some type of "public option" but appears to be having a hard time getting the Senate votes for a bill.
LABOR LAW REFORM
The Employee Free Choice Act would make it easier for unions to organize:
The Administration and its labor allies have not been able to garner sufficient support to move this bill to a vote.The Obama Administration has not expended much political capital on the issue to date. As the mid-terms get closer, it will be harder to move this bill.
IMMIGRATION LAW REFORM
Immigration law reform appears to be on the back burner for now. Efforts to forge a compromise which would bring millions of illegal immigrant workers out of the shadows and give them a path to citizenship appear to be unlikely to succeed anytime soon. The issue has been put on the back burner. With unemployment high, immigration rights advocates face a very high hurdle. If anything, the immigration reform movement has taken a step back as versions of the healthcare reform bill have been drafted to exclude participation by illegals.
It's entirely possible that we'll see little movement on any of these issues over the next year.
Readers of the column know that I was an Obama contributor and supporter. But I've repeatedly noted that the President has been reluctant to lead. I'm afraid that this is coming back to haunt him and his vision now.
I'm not a fan of Ari Fleischer (George Bush's first press secretary). But I'd have to agree with Fleischer's comment tonight on CNN. Things got off to a bad start when Obama rolled over and signed the first Congressional budget bill, filled with pork and earmarks. It set a bad tone, only to be followed by a poorly put together stimulus package that was also a grab bag for a number of Congressional pet projects.
It's not change worthy of believing in.
Those of us who would like to see some change need to recognize what's happened. Coastal California Democrats, unionists and progressives need to take a deep breath. Some of the goals need to be adjusted. Grand schemes may be out.
Workers out of a job or worried about their job are looking for results.
Can the President shift focus onto that? The President has not convinced regular voters that a big healthcare bill will get them and their kids back to work.
It's time to grind out a couple of first downs for workers.
As the sign said in the Little Rock campaign headquarters of Bill Clinton, "it's the economy, stupid!"