Hospital Quality Rating System Delayed by CMS

Is that hospital where you just had open-heart surgery a five star or a one star? You’ll have to wait until July, at the earliest, to find out.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) yesterday delayed implementation of its hospital quality rating system that was set to debut this week amid questions about the methodology being employed.

Members of Congress — nearly half — and the American Hospital Association alike voiced concerns that the methodology overlooked crucial factors, such as the number of patients a hospital was seeing who had multiple chronic conditions and/or low incomes, both factors that often directly affect outcomes.

CMS said it was “committed to quality improvement and transparency for people with Medicare.” CMS administers the Medicare and Medicaid programs.


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 yet 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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UnitedHealth Makes It Official: Obamacare Withdrawal Underway

UnitedHealth Group Inc., the nation’s largest health insurance firm, has announced it plans to withdraw from all but “a handful” of Obamacare states in 2017 as it faces losses from the program rising to $650 million this year.

UnitedHealth currently insures 795,000 Obamacare enrollees in 34 states, but CEO Stephen J. Hemsley says “the shorter-term, higher-risk profile” of most of these enrollees makes it difficult to continue insuring them. (Translation: older, sicker, costlier enrollees.)

In light of the UnitedHealth announcement, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told the Wall Street Journal that “the marketplaces will continue to thrive for years ahead” despite the defection of the nation’s premier insurer.


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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OSHA Publishes Final Rule on Retaliation Complaints under Food Safety Modernization Act

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has published a final rule establishing procedures for handling retaliation complaints under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The final rule also explains the burdens of proof, remedies and statute of limitations similar to other whistleblower protection statutes that OSHA administers.

Section 402 of the FSMA, signed into law January 2011, protects employees who disclose information about a possible violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act from retaliation by employers that manufacture, process, pack, transport, distribute, receive, hold or import food.

“Food industry workers must never be silenced by the threat of losing their jobs when their safety or the safety of the public is at stake,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels. “This rule underscores the agency’s commitment to protect the rights of workers who report illegal activity in their workplace.”

In 2014, OSHA published an interim final rule and requested public comments. This final rule responds to those comments, clarifies the agency’s policy regarding approval of settlement agreements, and improves consistency with the language of the statute, other OSHA whistleblower regulations, and developments in applicable case law.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace, commercial motor vehicle, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, maritime, consumer product, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, corporate securities, food safety and consumer financial reform regulations. Additional information is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.


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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OSHA Fines to Rise by August 1

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is not the only federal agency that is authorized to “catch up” on inflation by increasing its fines on Aug. 1, but it’s the one agency that’s been the most vocal over the years, with administrator David Michaels doing the cheerleading for higher penalty levels.

This past November President Obama signed into law the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, which authorizes agencies to publish interim final rules no later than July 1, 2016, for new penalty levels that must take effect on Aug. 1.

Since OSHA often issues its fines months after conducting an inspection, the new fines can be assessed on businesses inspected on or after Feb. 1 of this year so long as they’re issued on Aug. 1 or later.


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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UnitedHealth Bailing on Third Obamacare State

This time it’s a biggie: UnitedHealth Group Inc., the nation’s largest health insurance firm, is pulling out of the Obamacare sweepstakes in Michigan, the largest state so far that it’s bailed from in the face of $500 million in yearly losses from the national program.

Earlier, the company had withdrawn from Arkansas and Georgia amid threats that it might withdraw from the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace program in face of mounting losses. Analysts now expect the company to cease Obamacare offerings in most, if not all, of the 34 states where it’s operating under the program.

Blue Cross, Blue Shield and Aetna have voiced similar concerns about operating in the nationwide exchanges, which they say draw in the old and sick over the healthier portions of the population.


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 yet 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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USCIS Launches E-Verify Usage Web Page

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has created a web page to show statistics on the numbers of businesses using the E-Verify database system to confirm the eligibility of job applicants to work at their firms.Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 10.10.04 AMT

As of March 31, when the latest statistics were compiled, Georgia led all states in the number of firms signing memoranda of understanding (MOU) with USCIS to use the free E-Verify system. The Peach State was followed by Arizona and California.


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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AGs Go After Firms with ‘On-Call’ Worker Policies

Attorneys-general from eight states, including California, have collaborated in an effort to rein in on-call worker policies that leave employees dangling and unable to do anything while waiting for a call to work that might never come.

On-call policies demand that employees remain free to be summonsed to work if needed.

The AGs sent a letter to 15 companies asking for details on their on-call policies and records of employees affected.

The letter read in part: “Workers who must be ‘on call’ have difficulty making reliable childcare and elder-care arrangements, encounter obstacles in pursuing an education, and in general experience higher incidences of adverse health effects.”

The companies include American Eagle, Aeropostale, Payless, Disney, Coach, PacSun, Forever 21, Vans, Justice Just for Girls, BCBG Maxazria, Tilly’s Inc. David’s Tea, Zumiez, Uniglo and Carter’s.

California law requires companies to compensate workers with up to four hours of wages if they are ready for work but aren’t called in, or if they are promised a long shift but work only part of it.


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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2015 Safest Year in Mining History, MSHA Says

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has released preliminary data for calendar year 2015, updating the “Mine Safety and Health at a Glance” page. The charts include information on inspections, violations and number of mines and miners. They also show fatality and injury rates for coal, metal and nonmetal and all mining.

The data show that last year was the safest year in mining history, both in terms of number of deaths and fatal and injury rates. These rates are calculated based on hours of miners’ exposure, a relative measure taking into account recent employment changes in the mining market.

“The progress we made in 2015 is good news for miners and the mining industry. It is the result of intensive efforts by MSHA and its stakeholders that have led to mine site compliance improvements, a reduction of chronic violators, historic low levels of respirable coal dust and silica, and a record low number of mining deaths,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

In 2015, 28 miners died in mining accidents, down from 45 in 2014. The fatal injury rate, expressed as reported injuries per 200,000 hours worked, was the lowest in mining history for all mining at 0.0096, down from 0.0144 in 2014 and 0.0110 in 2011 and 2012.

The fatal injury rate for coal mining in 2015 was 0.0121, the lowest rate ever. The previous fatal injury rate low was set in 2011, during a period of peak employment in the coal industry.

In the metal and nonmetal mining industry, both the number of fatalities and the fatal injury rate were cut almost in half from the previous year’s figures. The fatal injury rate of 0.0085 was close to the all-time low of 0.0079 set in 2012.

The all-injury rate – reported by mine operators – also dropped to a new low in 2015 at 2.28. Coal’s all-injury rate fell to 2.88, the first time it dropped below 3.0. Metal and nonmetal’s all-injury rate fell to a new low of 2.01.


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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California Ups the Ante on Paid Family Leave

Just a week after San Francisco went all out by guaranteeing 100 percent pay for employees who take family leave for the birth of a child, the state of California is raising its contribution to the program beginning in 2018.

When it kicks in, those earning close to the minimum wage will receive 70 percent of their pay for six weeks of leave for childbirth or caring for a family member, while higher earners — up to $108,000 a year — will receive 60 percent, courtesy of a state fund.

(Under the San Francisco law, taking effect next year, employers are responsible for making up the difference to guarantee 100 percent pay.)

Saying his state “is doing more in the aggregate than any other state” for its citizens’ welfare, Gov. Jerry Brown said the measure was one more step in “trying to compensate for the gross inequality that is not an abstraction but is bringing down the lives of a lot of people.”

President Obama immediately called upon Congress to pass a nationwide measure to guarantee paid family leave.


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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Much-Anticipated Fiduciary Rule Unveiled by DOL

For many in the financial services industry, dread became reality yesterday when the Department of Labor (DOL) introduced its much-discussed, much-anticipated fiduciary rule for agents who market retirement plans, setting the standard of service at “best interest” of the client rather than “suitable” for the client.

The rule makes all retirement investment advisers into fiduciaries, meaning they have to put their clients’ best interests first, over and above their own.

A White House statement read in part:

Today, the DOL is finalizing rules requiring retirement investment advisers to meet a ‘fiduciary’ standard—putting their clients’ best interest before their own profits. These reforms will save affected middle-class families tens of thousands of dollars in retirement savings over a lifetime of saving and level the playing field for the many financial advisers who are already doing right by their clients.

The rule, which will be phased in over eight months beginning in April 2017, is aimed at curbing excessive fees and commissions that enrich the agents but eat into the principal and growth of the retirement fund. The rule will mostly affect the marketing of IRAs since 401(k)s are handled by fiduciaries already.

The text of the “Conflict of Interest Rule” further explains:

The consequences are growing as baby boomers retire and move money from plans, where their employer has both the incentive and the fiduciary duty to facilitate sound investment choices, to IRAs, where both good and bad investment choices are more numerous and much advice is conflicted. These rollovers are expected to approach $2.4 trillion cumulatively from 2016 through 2020.

The rule becomes effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, but its implementation doesn’t begin until April 10, 2017.


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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