Enforcing the Workers’ Compensation laws in North Carolina

The following is a guest blog post written by a colleague and good friend of mine, Kevin Bunn.  Kevin is also an exceptional North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer.

I read Harry Payne’s editorial in last week’s Raleigh News and Observer and was struck by the lack of progress on enforcing North Carolina’s mandatory workers’ compensation laws.  With very few exceptions, any business that employs three or more employees in North Carolina must provide for workers’ compensation benefits. Typically businesses do this by buying workers’ comp insurance.  Unfortunately a large number of employers cheat the system, either simply refusing to buy the insurance coverage or misclassifying actual employees as “independent contractors.”   As a result we see frequently bad and occasionally horrific situations where injured workers go without the workers’ compensation benefits to which they are entitled.  Meanwhile, the cheaters get a competitive advantage over the legitimate businesses that play by the rules.

As a workers’ compensation attorney, I know the problems with uninsured employers first hand.  A few years ago I represented the widow of a truck driver who died in a fire when his truck ran off the road.  The trucking company was uninsured, although the owners acknowledge that they knew they should have had coverage.  The simply made a business decision to pay themselves rather than buying workers’ comp.  After two hearings and much time they finally paid the claim from their own funds.  It would have been much less expensive for them to have simply bought workers’ comp insurance in the first place.

Last year the News and Observer’s Mandy Locke ran an excellent series of articles exposing this employer fraud.  There appeared to be a broad political consensus that something needed to be done.  Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin convened a bipartisan commission to look into the issue.  And as Mr. Payne noted, they discovered that the problem is even worse than believed:  “Employers who disobey the (workers’ compensation) law are also likely to cheat the government, their employees and their competitors by failing to pay unemployment insurance taxes, Social Security taxes, and income taxes.”   The commission recommended that the legislature provide that the mischaracterization of independent contractors be vigorously pursued and severely punished.  Unfortunately, very little has happened since.

It is past time to make some progress on this issue.  In a state as technology-savvy as North Carolina it is beyond belief that we cannot meet the challenge of ensuring that businesses comply with the mandatory workers’ comp laws.  After all, who do you think pays the cost of the medical treatment and disability for badly injured workers who work for uninsured employers?

Kevin Bunn, Attorney at Law, Cary, North Carolina

Another reason for Health Insurance Reform

It is no secret that the current Health Insurance system in America is not working. Whether you agree or disagree with the tenets of the Affordable Care Act that is now in front of the US Supreme Court, nobody can argue that the current health care system isn’t broke. It is.

Here is another example of why we need reform – a report from the News & Observer that non-profit hospitals which are supposed to be providing “charity care” to the poor, aren’t.

Charity care is health care that is provided to poor patients who lack health insurance. In return for their non-profit status, the hospitals are expected to write off the bills of patients who lack insurance and are financially needy. However, nearly 2 out of every 3 patients that would otherwise qualify for charity care are not even informed that is exists.

And when charity care is offered, it is often in the form of promissory notes with steep consequences if the patient fails to pay on time. In this report, the patient profiled was offered a promissory note in which 1/2 of her $5,000 debt would be forgiven if she made payments on time and paid off the other half of the balance. If she failed to pay, the entire balance would immediately become due, along with collection costs and legal fees. Where I’m from, those unconscionable contracts are illegal forms of “usury” agreements. The patient in the article refused to sign the agreement and is still being hounded by collections agencies.

It is my hope that articles like this will draw attention to these “non-profit” hospitals, such as Person Memorial Hospital in Roxboro, so that the state can take a closer look at their non-profit status.

Additionally, in my opinion, this is just another glaring example of why we need an individual mandate. If this patient had health insurance, all of a sudden she does not have a huge medical bill looming that she cannot afford to pay. Additionally, the hospitals will save money on collection efforts and unpaid medical bills, which are ultimately passed on to those of us that DO have health insurance.

Finally, the individual mandate would eliminate shady businesses such as AccessOne, a credit card company that offers interest free options to pay off medical bills. However, when payments are missed, rates will rise sharply. Interestingly, this company was started by a doctor who wanted to solve the problem of patients who can’t pay their medical bills.

 

Infant Tylenol allegedly kills 3 month old

As an expectant father for the second time (as of writing this post, my wife is just over 38 weeks pregnant with our second child), my wife and I are increasingly sensitive to the risks associated with over the counter medication for our children, especially a newborn. According to the Chicago Tribune, we are right to be nervous.  In April 2010, a 3-month-old infant died after taking infant-formula liquid Tylenol. It seems that some of the drugs had been contaminated with bacteria.

This is a sad story, and I can honestly say that my wife and I have used liquid medicine for our first born on many occasions – and he is now a happy and healthy 2 year old. However, what I take away from this is that it is important that we as parents think twice before we make a decision about what we put into our children’s small bodies. Newborns especially do not have the ability to fight off bacteria as an older child or adult does. This is true for not only medication, but vaccines and foods as well.

Principal shot on way to work suffered a compensable injury

On April 9, 2009, James Hunt, a principal at Fairmount Middle School in Lumberton, was shot on his way to work. Earlier this month, the Court of Appeals affirmed a decision determining that Mr. Hunt suffered an injury that arose out of and was within the scope of his employment. (A full copy of the…

Talking on your Cell Phone while driving forbidden in Chapel Hill

Those of you who frequently talk on your cell phone while driving take note – this practice will become illegal in Chapel Hill on June 1. Yesterday, Chapel Hill, North Carolina became the first town in the nation to outlaw talking on a cell phone, whether hands free or not, while driving. Of course, this…

Just received a Form 24 – What now?

In North Carolina’s workers’ compensation system, many injured workers think that they can handle their case on their own, especially if the case is accepted by the insurance company (meaning that you are receiving weekly benefit checks and medical treatment from the insurance company). Unfortunately, many of these same workers don’t realize the mistake they…

Workers’ Comp Mileage Rates in NC

Did you know that if you have to travel farther than 20 miles roundtrip to attend an appointment for medical treatment, you are entitled to reimbursement from the workers’ comp insurance carrier? Per the North Carolina Industrial Commission, the IRS mileage rate for January 1, 2011 through June 30, 2011 is $0.51 per mile. On…

Workers’ Comp and the Obesity problem

I was reading an article this morning on how the Obesity problem in America “weighs” on the Workers’ Comp system. It is not surprising that obese clients will take longer to heal after a work related injury, and there may be an increase in the cost to treat this worker in the workers’ comp system…

Cell phones banned while driving in Chapel Hill?

  I previously blogged about the perils of texting while driving, and it appears that there is now a movement for a total ban on cell phone use while driving that is receiving increased public support in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Apparently, the Chapel Hill town council is set to vote on this measure, which…

FAQ – What if my workers’ comp check is late?

One of the most frequent calls I receive from my workers’ comp clients is that their workers’ compensation check is late. Unfortunately, (and I don’t believe that this is the client’s fault), the calls I receive are from the same client’s again and again. This means that the same insurance companies are routinely late in…

Given a deadline to return to work, now what?

This is one of the most frequent questions I get from my clients, because it is a frequent tactic used by insurance companies to either: 1) cut off your benefit checks in accepted cases, or 2) show that you are capable of working in denied cases. If you don’t already have an attorney, and you…