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The Workers’ Comp News Digest is a monthly news clipping service provided by the Insurance Council of Texas to our members. Your March 2019 news digest follows:
Texas News
March 29 – The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) announced they will be reviewing the “Old Law” rules – Chapters 41-69, of Title 28, Part 2 of the Texas  Administrative Code. DWC is accepting public comments on whether the rules still have a reason to exist and whether these rules should be repealed.
March 26 – reported that the Texas Supreme Court has placed a hold on a much-anticipated case that could help determine if air ambulance bills can be limited by the state's workers' compensation reimbursement rules. The case – Texas Mutual Insurance Company, et al. v. PHI Air Medical was put on hold in response to a petition filed by the air ambulance company to abate the case while the company's bankruptcy proceeding continues. (Purchase of article or subscription required to read the article)
March 25 – reported that physician dispensing bills spark fears of ‘backslide’ in workers’ compensation results. Texas currently allows physician dispensing of prescription drugs to patients only in rural areas or “to meet the patient’s immediate needs.” Doctors may also give patients free samples received from drug companies. House Bill 460 and House Bill 1622 would remove those limitations on physician dispensing. (Purchase of article or subscription required to read the article)

March 21 – reported that some Texas counties may be steering injured first responders away from the workers' compensation system, then firing them before they have recovered enough to return to work, according to witnesses who spoke at a Texas House committee hearing. Two law enforcement officers told the House Business and Industry Committee how they had been fired from their jobs while they were recovering, one from an on-the-job automobile accident and one from post-traumatic stress disorder. (Purchase of article or subscription required to read the article)
March 19 – DWC announced that the discount and interest rate provided for by the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act has been set at 6.02 percent for April 1, 2019 – June 30, 2019.

March 18 – reported that air ambulance company Phi Air Medical has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The air ambulance company is at the heart of a dispute over whether air ambulance firms can be bound by workers' compensation fee schedules.  The bankruptcy filing in the Northern District of Texas, PHI said the move was triggered by its inability to repay $500 million of unsecured loans.
March 14 – DWC announced that Commissioner of Workers’ Compensation Cassie Brown adopted a revised procedure for evaluating designated doctor performance. The evaluation procedure provides for the review of the quality of designated doctor decisions, as required by law.
March 7 – The Houston Chronicle reported that small businesses opted to drop their workers' compensation subscriptions between 2016 and 2018 according to a survey of over 2,000 Texas businesses conducted by the Texas Department of Insurance, DWC.
March 6 – The Insurance Journal reported that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Bruce Foods Corp. – a Mexican food manufacturer based in El Paso, Texas – after an employee suffered an amputation. The company now faces $194,350 in fines.
March 5 – OAOA.COM reported that Texas Mutual Insurance Company awarded a $100,000 grant to Midland College to continue funding the Risk Management Institute at Midland College. The Risk Management Institute provides workplace safety courses for community employers, workers and the general public. 

National News
March 29 – reported that the workers’ comp industry had excess loss reserves estimated at $4.7 billion at the end of 2018, according to new report from A.M. Best, and some analysts say that will provide a cushion to help extend the insurance line’s streak of profitability. (Purchase of article or subscription required to read the article)
March 27 – reported that interest in physical and mental wellness programs for first responders is surging and the continued expansion of workers’ compensation presumptions could add fuel to the trend. A growing number of vendors are popping up to help agencies with first responder wellness. And the emphasis in large part is on mental health.  (Purchase of article or subscription required to read the article)
March 26 – reported that Medicare is not the only federal entity seeking reimbursement from the workers’ compensation system. The Veterans Administration is also a secondary payer and needs to be considered for affected injured workers.
March 25 – reported that the recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by one of the largest air ambulance firms, PHI Air Medical, may signal the beginning of a shakeout that could ultimately lead to lower fees paid by insurers and fewer balance bills to injured workers. (Purchase of article or subscription required to read the article)
March 24 – reported that the American Society of Safety Professionals observed the 108th anniversary of the deadly 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City that spurred workplace safety. The fire killed 146 garment workers.
March 22 – The Insurance Journal reported that Mitchell International’s product management and strategy group leader, Shahin Hatamian, recently spoke with Insurance Journal’s Elizabeth Blosfield about how technology has been transforming the workers’ compensation industry. Hatamian discussed some of the new challenges workers’ compensation insurers may face as a result of technological changes, as well as the benefits of the increased use of technology in workers’ comp and some of the emerging technologies that are still on the horizon for insurers.
March 21 – Business Insurance reported that a white paper by Global Risk Consultants Corporation said employers need a comprehensive strategy to manage dangerous combustible dust, which is present in an array of industries, can cause catastrophic injuries and death. The white paper also highlights the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board’s new Call to Action, focused on combustible dust hazards and the continued need for awareness, protection and prevention of tragedies detailed in the white paper.
March 21 – reported that the aging workforce requires employers to step up to safety program that is relevant to the work involved, retain employees as injury rates for new hires are typically higher than for established employees, provide health benefits and wellness plans to help maintain a healthier work force, and maintain good relationships with employees as it has an impact on job safety and quicker return to work times
March 15 – The Claims Journal reported that some 300 health professionals signed a joint letter to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue “a bold clarification” of the CDC’s policy on tapering long-term users of pain medications off of the drugs. The letter says that after the guidelines were adopted, many doctors and regulators incorrectly believed that the CDC had established a daily dose limit of 90 mg of morphine equivalent and imposed payment barriers and explicit taper plans as a condition for authorizing refills.
March 11 – reported that artificial intelligence (AI) can be a powerful force in a renaissance for the workers’ compensation world. Before that can happen, insurers will have to first abandon the knee-jerk inclination for AI to make the existing end-to-end process more efficient while protecting current profit streams. Vendors will need to redesign operations and service lanes with new pricing and new value propositions. The workers’
compensation insurance industry will need to adopt the spirit of open-source development by defining non-proprietary functional modules whose needs invite the tech world and spark creative innovation.
March 5 – The Claims Journal reported that U.S. companies installed more robots last year than ever before, as cheaper and more flexible machines put them within reach of businesses of all sizes and in more corners of the economy beyond their traditional foothold in car plants. Pressure to automate is growing as companies seek to cut labor costs in a tight job market. Many companies that are considering bringing work back from overseas in response to the Trump administration’s trade wars may find automation the best way to stay competitive, even with higher-cost U.S. workers.
March 1 – The Office of the Texas Governor announced that Governor Greg Abbott has reappointed Jessica Barta to the Injured Employee Public Counsel for a term set to expire February 1, 2021. The Public Counsel helps injured employees in the workers' compensation system, oversees the ombudsman program, and advocates on behalf of injured employees.
March 1 – reported on a 2019 WCRI Annual Conference keynote speech by Dr. John W. Ruser, WCRI and Prof. Alan Kruegar, Princeton University that focused on the opioid epidemic, participation in the US labor force, and the state of the US economy.



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