HHS Pushes Development of Ebola Vaccine

The development of a vaccine to prevent Ebola virus disease will be accelerated with support from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).

Under a one-year contract with Profectus BioSciences Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will provide approximately $5.8 million in funding, in addition to subject matter expertise and technical assistance, to further develop an experimental Ebola vaccine. The company will manufacture vaccine for use in animal safety studies and future clinical trials and conduct animal studies to test safety. The contract can be extended to a total of 13 months and $8.6 million.

Upon successful completion of this work, the company is expected to submit an investigational new drug application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This application, once accepted by the FDA, would allow the vaccine to begin the first clinical trials for safety in humans.

“We are pushing hard to advance the development of multiple products as quickly as possible for clinical evaluation and future use in preventing or treating this deadly disease,” said BARDA Director Robin Robinson, Ph.D. “Our goal is to close the global gap in vaccines and therapeutics needed to protect the public health from Ebola as highlighted by the epidemic in West Africa.”


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Launches Website on Accessible Workplace Technology

The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has announced the launch of http://www.PEATworks.org — a comprehensive Web portal spearheaded by ODEP’s Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology. From educational articles to interactive tools, the website’s content aims to help employers and the technology industry adopt accessible technology as part of everyday business practice so that all workers can benefit.

PEATworks.org will be the central hub of PEAT, a multifaceted initiative to improve the employment, retention and career advancement of people with disabilities through the promotion of accessible technology. PEAT conducts outreach, facilitates collaboration and provides a mix of resources to serve as a catalyst for policy development and innovation related to accessible technology in the workplace.

“PEAT is the only entity of its kind bringing together employers, technology providers, thought leaders and technology users around the topic of accessible technology and employment,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathy Martinez. “Given the critical role that accessible technology plays in the employment of people with disabilities, ODEP is delighted to announce the launch of PEATworks.org, with its rich array of tools and resources.

Features of PEATworks.org include an action guide for employers and informational articles, and it will serve as a platform for collaboration and dialogue around accessible technology in the workplace. Also featured is “TechCheck,” an interactive tool to help employers assess their technology accessibility practices and find resources to help develop them further.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Delays Action on ‘White Collar’ Overtime Exemption Rule

Along with the home care worker rule, the Department of Labor (DOL) has confirmed that work on a rule redefining the exemptions from overtime pay for professional, executive, administrative, outside sales and computer employees has been delayed until next year.

The department’s Semiannual Regulatory Agenda had targeted November 2014 as the goal for the redefinition, which would presumably up the ante by raising the salary requirement for overtime exemption from its current base of $455 a week, thus making millions more eligible for overtime pay.

Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states that “any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity can be classified as exempt from overtime pay.” The current salary requirement of $455 a week to be classified as exempt was set in 2004 with the enactment of the FairPay Overtime Rules.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration ordered the DOL to look into the issue and come up with new standards, deeming $455 a week to be too low a threshold.

To fully understand the complexities of the FLSA and how they impact your business, please procure a copy of our FLSA Compliance Program.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Issues $170M in Grants for Long-Term Unemployed Job Placement

The Department of Labor today announced $169,771,960 in grants to expedite the employment of Americans struggling with long-term unemployment. The grants are part of the Ready to Work Partnership initiative to support and scale innovative collaborations between employers, nonprofit organizations and federal job training programs to help connect ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.

“There’s no question that individuals struggling with long-term unemployment are better off than they were 12 months ago, but there are still twice as many of them as there were before the recession. The constant struggle to find work has left many of them feeling discouraged and disregarded,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “The federal grants we’re awarding today are part of a series of administration initiatives designed to help encourage, empower and employ this pool of talented individuals.”

These grants are part of an administration-wide effort to address the ongoing issue of long-term unemployment. Secretary Perez and Jeff Zients, director of the National Economic Council, will meet with chief human resource officers of leading companies, including Citigroup Inc., CVS Caremark Corp., The Boeing Co. and Dow Chemical Co., among others, during a roundtable discussion hosted at the White House on Wednesday, Oct. 15, to discuss improvements these companies have made to increase recruitment of and eliminate barriers to hiring long-term unemployed individuals. The Office of Personnel Management will also issue guidance today to federal agencies on increasing recruitment and hiring of long-term unemployed individuals.

Grants, ranging from $3 million to $10 million, were awarded to 23 partnerships to serve individuals in 20 states and Puerto Rico. Three grantees — District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund (Pennsylvania), Memphis Bioworks Foundation (Tennessee) and Worksystems Inc. (Oregon) — will support projects in multiple states.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Ada Lovelace Day Celebrated Today, Oct. 14

Ada Lovelace in 1833 developed what was arguably the world’s first programming language, or algorithm, for mathematician and mechanical engineer Charles Babbage, who was working on two prototype computers called the Difference Engine and the Analytics Engine.

Ada was the daughter of Lord Byron and mathematics-loving Annabella Milbanke, who instilled in her daughter a love of science, math and logic.

Some 110 years later, the U.S. military began developing the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), the world’s first electronic computer consisting of 17,468 vacuum tubes and weighing 30 tons. The ENIAC team put out a call for “computers” to program the new device, thus giving the name to posterity for all computing devices.

The six “computers” the team hired were all women: Jean Bartik, Frances “Betty” Snyder Holberton, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum and Frances Bilas Spence.

Grace Hopper later developed the rudiments of COBOL, the main language used in mainframe computers like the IBM S/360.

Thus Ada Lovelace was the first in a long line of women who left their mark on the world of computing.

Ada Lovelace Day, Oct. 14 each year, marks the achievements of these and other women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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New HealthCare.Gov Site Unveiled But With Spanish Misspellings

healthcaredotgovA day after insurers got to navigate through the site, the administration unveiled its revamped HealthCare.Gov insurance portal on Wednesday with versions in both English and Spanish, but with “get ready” misspelled three times in Spanish as preparase instead of the correct spelling, preparese.

The incorrect usage appears three times.

Open enrollment for year two of Obamacare commences Nov. 15. Though the number of screens for the enrollment process has been reduced from 76 to 16, health insurance premiums won’t be available until the second week of November, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Returning customers are being advised that, to ensure their existing coverage continues on Jan. 1, 2015, they must update their accounts and financial information by Dec. 15.

For the full story on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) affects your business, no matter how large or small, please obtain a copy of our comprehensive and easy-to-follow Affordable Care Act Compliance Kit.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Top 1% of Patients Consume 22.7% of Spending, Research Group Finds

The top 1 percent of all patients consume 22.7 percent of all health care spending, while the top 5 percent account for half of all spending, according to an analysis by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The average annual tab for the elderly in the top 5 percent is $60,976, topped only by people with four or more conditions in the top 5 percent, whose yearly total is $78,198, says the AHRQ.

In contrast, people with private insurance in the top 5 percent average $39,542 a year, lowest of all in the top segment.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Gag Order Placed on Insurers Who Test Revamped HealthCare.Gov Site

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has invited health insurers to test the revamped HealthCare.Gov site today but only if they “acknowledge the confidentiality of this process.”

Despite the gag order, which states that the testers “will not use, disclose, describe, post to a public form, or in any way share Test Data with any person or entity, including but not limited to the media,” the Wall Street Journal obtained a copy of the confidential CMS email to insurers quoted here.

If it was so easy to obtain the email, won’t details of the tests be sure to follow?


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Wal-Mart, Other Retailers Cut Health Care for Part-Time Workers

Joining Target, Home Depot and others, Wal-Mart — the nation’s largest retailer — has announced plans to eliminate health insurance for some of its part-time workers (those who work fewer than 30 hours a week) in order to curb health care expenses. Wal-Mart employs 1.4 million full- and part-time workers, but only about 30,000 of them will be affected.

The move will be implemented come Jan. 1, according to The Associated Press.

“We had to make some tough decisions,” Sally Wellborn, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president of benefits, told The Associated Press. Wellborn says the company will use a third-party organization to help part-time workers find insurance alternatives.

“We are trying to balance the needs of [workers] as well as the costs of [workers] as well as the cost to Wal-Mart.”


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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By Refusing to Hear the Issue, SCOTUS Allows Gay Marriage in Five More States

The Supreme Court today refused to consider whether states can ban gay marriages and in so doing upheld rulings by judges in five states that had struck down bans on gay marriages.

As a result, Virginia, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Utah and Indiana will now be obliged to allow gay marriages, bringing the total number of states so aligned to 24 from 19. In addition, another six states are bound by federal appeals court rulings that have struck down their bans and will soon join the five states’ ranks. That leaves 20 states with bans intact.

With appeals on lower courts’ rulings no longer on hold, gay couples in those five states can begin lining up immediately for marriage licenses.

The upheaval in state same-sex marriage laws follows the June 2013 Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor, which ruled as unconstitutional that part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage as legal only when between a man and a woman.

To understand how the Windsor decision affects your workplace and your administration of benefits, please get a copy of our DOMA Ruling Compliance Kit today.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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