Was Massachusetts REALLY Rated Worst Drivers in the Country . . . Again?

Allstate just released their 2015 Best Drivers Report; once again, Massachusetts found itself near the very bottom. According to the 2015 report, Massachusetts is home to three of the five lowest-ranking cities in the US: Springfield was ranked 196th; Worcester was ranked 199th; and Boston, sitting in 200th place, was rated the very worst city for driving. Boston drivers averaged just 3.9 years between accidents and are 158% more likely to get into an accident than the national average. Worcester residents ranked only slightly higher, with an average of 4.5 years between accidents and a 120% greater likelihood of getting in an accident than the national average.

In 2012, Massachusetts experienced 349 crash-related fatalities and nearly 4,400 serious injuries . Of those who were killed in these crashes, 161 were drivers, 48 were passengers, 51 were on a motorcycle, 72 were pedestrians, and 15 were riding a bicycle.

However, when compared to the national average on fatal accidents, Massachusetts doesn’t look so bad. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found there were 4.9 deaths per 100,000 residents in the commonwealth, which was one of the lowest numbers in the country. Wyoming, with the worst population-to-fatality rate, was over five times higher, at nearly 26 deaths per 100,000 residents.

These statistics should give Bay Staters plenty to think about. Simple acts, like obeying the speed limit, stopping for pedestrians, and avoiding distracted driving can help reduce our chances of getting into accidents . . . and will hopefully help our cities rank higher in years to come.

Author Bio: Peter Ventura has more than 25 years of experience as a trial lawyer and practices personal injury law in Worcester, Massachusetts—the same city in which he was born. From 1982–1985, he served as the assistant district attorney in Worcester County, where he tried hundreds of cases. He has also served as an adjunct faculty member at several colleges and universities in the area.

Big Win for Injured Workers in MA: Courts Now Allowing Compensation for Pain and Suffering Damages

On February 12, 2016, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that, in third-party settlements, workers’ compensation liens will not cover damages for injured employees’ pain and suffering. The compensation for these “noneconomic damages,” which had previously been awarded to workers’ compensation insurance providers, will now be passed on to the workers. The ruling in the case—DiCarlo vs. Suffolk Construction—came as a victory for injured workers, ensuring that workers’ compensation insurance providers may not claim the entirety of a worker’s settlement with a responsible third party.

The Law in Massachusetts

Massachusetts workers’ compensation law entitles injured workers to compensation for medical care and lost wages. However, it does not provide compensation for pain and suffering. In some cases, a worker’s injuries at a workplace occur as the result of negligence by a third party, such as a property owner or contractor. If the third party is responsible for the injury, the injured worker can sue for damages—including compensation for pain and suffering—from the individual or party at fault. In DiCarlo vs. Suffolk Construction, the court ruled that workers’ compensation will not cover the portion of a third-party settlement intended to cover pain and suffering.

What Is the Business Impact of the Court’s Decision?

Third-party settlement amounts are sometimes less than the full amount of a workers’ compensation lien. An injured worker may choose to accept a compromise settlement that guarantees some compensation rather than risking a loss at trial. Prior to the DiCarlo ruling, a workers’ compensation insurance company could reduce its lien and allow an injured worker to keep some portion of a third-party settlement; the law, however, did not mandate such a lien reduction. From now on, an injured worker will now receive the portion of a third-party claim set aside for pain and suffering, with the remainder of the settlement used to defray legal expenses and any workers’ compensation lien.

Agreeing on Fair Distribution

The ruling did not include a formula for allocating compensation for pain and suffering, but the court noted that the amounts must be fair and proportional. Third-party settlements are reviewed by either a trial judge or by the Department of Industrial Accidents; all parties have the right to be heard. As a result of the DiCarlo ruling, compromise must be made in the best interest of both injured workers and workers’ compensation insurers.

About the Author:

John J. Sheehan workers’ compensation law BostonJohn J. Sheehan practices workers’ compensation law in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was born and raised. Mr. Sheehan is a member of organizations including the American Bar Association, the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys. In 1993, John Sheehan graduated from Suffolk University Law School and gained admittance to the Massachusetts state bar.

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Spaulding Closing Salem Location

Administrators at Spaulding Hospital have announced that it will shut down The Spaulding Hospital for Continuing Medical Care North Shore’s inpatient operations by the end of September 2015, with the hospital saying that new federal regulations will severely impact patient volume.

Approximately 320 people are scheduled to be laid off because of this move and Spaulding has indicated they would, where appropriate, be assigning some displaced staff to other positions within its parent Partners HealthCare system while others will be receiving severance packages.

The Salem location, formerly known as the Shaughnessy-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital, has been experiencing declining inpatient numbers for years and now operates below 50% capacity. Given recent policy changes at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, inpatient volume was predicted to dip to below 32 percent.

“The dramatic further decline based on the new admitting criteria established by CMS has created an untenable situation. Sadly, it is no longer viable to continue SNS’s inpatient services,” said David Storto, president of Partners Continuing Care, and Maureen Banks, president of Spaulding Hospital for Continuing Medical Care North Shore.

“The new LTAC regulations will not impact Spaulding Hospital Cambridge to the same degree because of a different Medicare mix and a greater number of referring hospitals,” Spaulding officials said.

Spokespeople for Partners HealthCare say the CMS changes won’t affect patient services at any of their other hospitals. Both inpatient and outpatient services will still be available in Charlestown, Cambridge and on Cape Cod, as well as at skilled nursing facilities in Boston and outpatient sites in the North Shore.

Gains Reported in State’s Human Services Sector

A new research study released by the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts in conjunction with UMass Dartmouth has revealed that human services sector employment in the Bay State increased nearly 48 percent during the years spanning 2003-2011, a fact many in the industry will surely find to be a source of encouragement. In addition, the report indicated that the 145,000 members of that sector generated disposable income in an amount ultimately responsible for a $3.4 billion statewide economic impact in 2011 alone.

The study had been commissioned by The Providers’ Council, a leading association for community-based groups across the Commonwealth. Creation of the report was overseen by David Jordan, CEO of Seven Hills Foundation, together with fellow Providers’ Council committee members who had been charged with the task. Formally released at the Statehouse, the report also declared that the 145,000 jobs comprising the human services sector equated to 5 percent of the total jobs within the state, and that this sector had increased in size more rapidly than anticipated.

Other key findings in the report include the fact that, despite sector growth, state budgetary allocations for spending on human services shrunk from 11.8 percent in FY 2003 to just 9.8 in FY 2014, something fiscal watchdogs are likely to applaud. Also of note was the discovery that out of all industries represented within Massachusetts, human services included the highest rate of employees with a defined disability, at 6.5 percent.

Baker Takes $750M from MassHealth with New Budget

On Wednesday, March 4th, Governor Charlie Baker filed a $38.1 billion budget proposal which includes recommendations for increased spending on objectives like local aid, transportation and higher education. The budget also proposes cutting more than $750 million from MassHealth to help fill a projected deficit of $1.8 billion.

For his first budget, Baker says he inherited a gaping shortfall in the available sources of revenue required to continue funding state government at the current level of service. The gap, officials say, was caused by an 8% increase in spending within the current budget year and reliance on one-time sources of up to $1.2 billion in funding.

Baker will file two pieces of companion legislation with the budget, including a bill to establish an early retirement program. The second bill entails his proposals for a tax amnesty program for first time filers, a gradual elimination of the film tax credit program, and an expansion of the earned income tax credit to 30 percent of the federal credit.

Without withdrawing from the state’s savings, increasing taxes or raising fees, Baker’s budget proposes to limit growth in spending by 3 percent, or $1.1 billion. It would also reduce the state’s reliance on one-time sources of funding by half. MassHealth, one of the largest expenses in the state budget, will grow by $950 million. This will represent a 5.6 percent increase in the nearly $14 billion Medicaid program, which provides healthcare to 1.7 million low and moderate income residents.

MassHealth had been expected to grow by 16 percent in fiscal 2016. However, Baker’s administration have budgeted $761 million in net savings back to the state, which includes $400 million in cuts at MassHealth after a redetermination process for 1.2 million subscribers. Budget officials have stated that chiropractic benefits would no longer be covered, though adult dental coverage and coverage for autism services to 10,000 children will be extended.

Besides trimming funds from MassHealth, the Baker Administration also plans to direct all capital gains taxes into the general fund in fiscal 2016. This represents nearly $300 million that would otherwise be earmarked for the stabilization account, currently holding $1.2 billion. $178 million in savings has also been budgeted from an early retirement fund while another $125 million will be taken from the Group Insurance Commission by increasing deductibles and premium co-pays, as well as increasing the employee health insurance contribution for all employees hired after 2003.

Other solutions to the budget gap include:

  • $100 million from a tax amnesty program;
  • $30 million from the sale of the Sullivan courthouse in Cambridge;
  • $125 million for actions like the state hiring freeze and the annualization of emergency cuts, and;
  • A minimum $17 million in federal emergency snow disaster money expected to arrive in July.

Most budgets were level funded, including the majority of agencies that faced budget cuts in fiscal 2015 to solve a mid-year deficit, which were level-funded to post-cut numbers. Exceptions included spending increases at MassHealth, health and human services like the Department of Children and Families, a $105 million increase for Chapter 70 school aid, and a $34 million increase in unrestricted local aid. The budget also includes a 3 percent raise in funding for higher education campuses, police training, and summer job programs.

With Plainridge Park Casino scheduled to open this summer, Officials say the governor has budgeted an additional $87 million in revenues that will be used, along with lottery profits, to fund unrestricted local aid in cities and towns. Roughly $70 million in legislative earmarks that had been engraved into the fiscal 2015 state budget have been eliminated.

Employee Engagement and Wellness Top Priorities

Employee engagement and wellness continues to be a hot topic in business circles, as executives look for more ways to increase productivity and boost growth. At the same time, the job market is improving enough that some managers are becoming concerned about ways to keep their best people.

A recent report entitled “State of the Industry: Engagement & Wellness in 2015” by Virgin Pulse in partnership with Human Capital Media revealed some notable findings about the state of workforce engagement and wellness. The researchers conducted a survey of 1,400 Human Resources Management professionals to gain greater insight.

The findings were eye-opening.

  • The report found that managers and executives see employee engagement and wellness in starkly different ways. Executives feel that the two terms can be applied to the same workplace activities while managers are much more results oriented and break the link.
  • When asked, over 77% of firms said they were not considering shifting to private health insurance.
  • Twenty-six percent of firms are not even bothering to measure return on investment for their engagement and wellness programs. Those that do measure ROI, do so primarily based on reduction in insurance claims, while slightly over a quarter are measuring engagement goals.

Virgin Pulse CEO Chris Boyce commented on the report that due to the stress and competition of modern life, executives are continuing to make efforts to improve employee engagement and wellness. He noted “That has a major impact on how engaged and productive people are both on and off the job, so leading employers are taking steps to change that.”

In that way, employers can keep their best people, improve productivity and create a healthier work environment.

Snow Throws Wet Blanket on Economy

Starting in late January, Massachusetts has been battered by major snowstorms that have blocked roads, buried parking spaces, and caused widespread power outages. MBTA service has been limited, and even shut down in places. Snow and ice continues to block roads, keeping people away from shops and restaurants and impeding industrial and agricultural operations.

According to Christopher Geehern of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, employees are having trouble getting to work, and companies are having difficulties distributing their products. Industrial businesses are also spending a lot of time on snow removal.

Here are some other ways the snow is impacting the economy.

The Mystic Generating Station, an eight unit oil and natural gas power facility on the Mystic River across from Charlestown, lowered output to keep snow and ice in the river from making the plant malfunction. Workers also shoveled the flat roofs on the facility constantly. Kevin Thornton, a spokesman for the plant’s owner Exelon, said that the plant put workers in a hotel and provided food to make sure that they could get to work despite the snow. The plant has about 100 workers and the ability to power roughly two million homes. “The biggest costs have been snow removal,” Thornton said.

Insurance broker Marsh & McLennan in Worcester is seeing more claims for ice dams on roofs that have caused leaking and collapses. Jerry Alderman, president of property and casualty in New England, expects an increase in auto claims from snow and ice as well. Snow removal services are stretched very thin.

Economist Michael Goodman said that all the bad weather in January and February could cost the state billions of dollars while, according to a study by IHS Global Insight, a one day shutdown due to snow in Massachusetts would cost the state’s economy about $265 million.

Worcester on the Affordable Care Act

Recently a panel was held in Worcester to discuss health care reform. Secretary of administration and finance, Glen Shor acted as the keynote speaker and spoke positively on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He claimed it would help break down barriers to health care, along with assisting Massachusetts in receiving extra federal Medicaid reimbursements, that are issued to help cover uninsured or low-income patients. There is still plenty of room for improvement, and Shor is quoted saying, “Positive does not mean perfect.”

Other speakers on the panel include Patrick Farrell, Peter J. Martin, Jack Myers and Jean Yang. Topics were covered such as small businesses incentives to provide health care and how company culture relates to health care. Peter Martin was optimistic stating that Massachusetts has  “a relatively easy path ahead of us.” Employers are encouraged to keep up with the law as it changes and take a look at what others in the industry are offering.

Read more on the affordable care act panel here.