Essential Updates: Comp Medical News for March

Welcome to this month’s Comp Medical News recap. Your top stories leading into March 2016 are Zika policy, David Duke, and employee resilience.

First, Zika, like the Ebola virus before it, has proven to be a complicated outbreak to contain for both the general public and employers. Louisiana has been named as one climatorily susceptible location, should the virus reach our shores:

Zika and the Workplace: Considerations for Pregnant Employees

Venable LLP has issued alerts compiling information for employers as it relates to at-risk employees, primarily women who are pregnant while traveling to affected areas in South America or who could become pregnant while traveling. The article notes that employers and their pregnant employees should be concerned about travel to affected countries, particularly Martinique, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Honduras, as Zika is strongly linked with a serious neurological condition in newborns called microcephaly. In terms of the employer’s liability, two issues collide here: discrimination and workers’ comp.

Venable explains: “Ultimately, the pregnant employee decides what pregnancy-related risks to assume or avoid, under the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in the 1991 case United Auto Workers v. Johnson Controls. Employers who start reassigning job tasks based on pregnancy (or the possibility of becoming pregnant) risk claims of discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act that amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and comparable state laws […] it remains unsettled whether workers’ compensation laws would cover harm to the baby caused by the mother’s work-related travel. In other words, workers’ compensation laws may not preempt a lawsuit on behalf of the baby.”

Read the entire Q&A article here.

Zika Highlights Lack of Public Health Funding in Local U.S. Departments

Budget cuts across the country have left state and local health departments seriously understaffed and potentially in a dangerous situation if their local populations face outbreaks of two or more infectious diseases – such as Zika, new strains of flu, or the West Nile and Ebola viruses – at the same time. Stateline, a news site associated with the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that overall state spending on public health fell by $1.3 billion between 2008 and 2014, in the wake of the financial crisis. For states like Louisiana, already facing a massive budget deficit for the next two fiscal years, even a minor outbreak of Zika could prove disastrous for all sectors touching healthcare, including workers’ comp and employment risk more generally.

Read the further coverage from Stateline here.

Next, opioid supply and regulation collide nationally, as a much-maligned local figure becomes mired in a pill mill controversy:

David Duke Associate Accused of Running a “Pill Mill” out of a New Orleans East Clinic

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has charged Kenny Knight, a longtime associate of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, with running a “pill mill” out of a New Orleans East pain management clinic, according to initial reports from The New Orleans Advocate published last week. A federal judge recently unsealed a 22-page criminal complaint that accuses Knight of conspiring with a local doctor to dole out prescription painkillers to friends and patients without conducting the required medical exams. The business, the Axcess Medical Clinic on Lake Forest Boulevard, took only cash and attracted addicts who traveled for hours to get to it, according to the DEA. Staff members are accused of conducting sham therapy sessions and distributing pills to patients who would resell the narcotics in other cities like Houston. Separate federal indictments of the doctor and nurse at the clinic claim that at least three fatal overdoses have been associated with the Axcess system.

Read complete coverage from the Advocate here.

HHS Secretary Burwell Cites Prescription Prices and Opioids as Top Concerns

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell told policymakers on Capitol Hill at a recent meeting that the administration is “pursuing every administrative option” for addressing high prescription drug prices and continues to push for opioid abuse prevention. President Obama’s budget requests included $1.1 billion in funding for relevant issues related to the opioid fight, and Secretary Burwell testified that the plan includes better access to medication-assisted treatment, and increased availability of naloxone (AKA Narcan).

Read more via Modern Healthcare here.

Further, as more workers’ comp payers are willing to provide detox to opioid-dependent claimants, a shortage of counselors remains a significant barrier:

Detox Programs Help People and Decrease Costs But Remain Difficult to Access

Roberto Ceniceros, workers’ comp columnist with Risk & Insurance, looked into the methods and increased use of detox programs by workers’ comp claims payers. Las Vegas is one area of the country where detox and rehab programs have proven effective tools for helping dependent claimants recover, but the lack of available beds means costs – and death risk – continue to increase as help stagnates. According to Ceniceros’ group of experts, there are perhaps six to 15 programs nationwide that have proven track records for producing positive outcomes and understand the needs of workers’ comp patients.

Read the article here.

Addiction Counselors, Already in Short Supply Nationwide, are Strained in the Face of Opioids’ Increasing Toll

An ongoing labor shortage for addiction treatment professionals, a continual problem for decades, has become an ever-present public health concern as deaths linked to prescription drugs and heroin mount. According to an NPR report, each year, roughly one of every four substance-abuse clinicians nationally chooses to leave the job. The Affordable Care Act and other federal laws have given millions more people insurance to help them pay for those services, but no one is there to help facilitate the process. One addiction center director told NPR that the common perception that there aren’t enough beds does not address the root of the problem. Short a full time counselor for a year and a half she notes, “Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, there aren’t enough beds!‘ But there’s not enough treatment staff to open more beds.”

Read/listen to the entire report here.

Finally, a real-world wellness program found success by fostering resilience:

Employees Can Learn Resilience to Cope with Stress

After noticing that workers were often absent in its call centers around the country, Comcast Corp. implemented a resilience training program to get employees back in the office and more productive on the job. A study commissioned by the Philadelphia-based cable company found that the majority of time when employees didn’t show up for work, stress was a huge factor.

The company discovered a digital opportunity to address the problem and launched its pilot resilience program with meQuilibrium in July 2014. Ten percent of employees participated, and Dr. Benenson said participation continues to grow steadily. Users of the meQuilibrium program take an online assessment to show their strengths and weaknesses, then complete an initial 30-day boot camp on building resilience. After about 90 days, users complete a survey to assess progress. Following the pilot program, Comcast saw an 8 percent improvement in the stress of its employees and a 20 percent improvement in stress management, plus a decrease in employee absence.

Read more from Business Insurance here.


Image Credit: Popular Science

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