PA Chamber Expresses Dismay at Governor’s Veto of Workers’ Comp Bill

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

On Friday, April 27 – nine days after the General Assembly had sent him a bill to help address opioid addiction among Pennsylvania’s injured worker population – Gov. Tom Wolf issued his veto of S.B. 936. The PA Chamber was at the forefront in support for this legislation, which aimed to implement a prescription drug formulary within the state’s workers compensation system. Formularies are standard in healthcare and states that have established them within workers’ comp have seen a notable decrease in the number of opioid-dependent injured workers. Joining the PA Chamber in support for this bill was a broad array of stakeholders, including the Hospital & HealthSystem Association of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Occupational and Environmental Medical Society, Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association, Concentra (the largest provider of occupational medicine in the country), addiction treatment professionals, other groups representing employers, school districts and municipalities, as well as more than 70 local chambers of commerce, including the Columbia Montour Chamber.

“The Governor’s veto message is puzzling,” PA Chamber President Gene Barr said in a press release on Friday. “He does not appear to recognize that under S.B. 936 his own Department of Labor & Industry would have selected the formulary.  I’m also disturbed that the message insinuates that a prescription drug formulary could encourage opioid use.  This flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that drug formularies have helped reduce opioid use and addiction in state workers’ compensation systems across the country.”

The Governor’s decision to veto this important legislation is particularly disturbing in light of the revelations in a series of investigative articles by the Philadelphia Inquirer. The series described allegations involving a workers’ compensation law firm that partnered with a small network of doctors to prescribe their clients exorbitantly priced and unproven compound creams; and then sent these unsuspecting patients to pharmacies that were co-owned by the lawyers and doctors themselves. The articles exposed these individuals as the opponents aggressively fighting to defeat S.B. 936.

The day before he vetoed S.B. 936, Gov. Wolf announced his intent to issue Executive Orders related to the opioid crisis that appear to be woefully inadequate. In its press release, the PA Chamber listed the reasons why his action is not an adequate alternative to the bill. For example, the announcement mentions plans to regulate the cost of “topical opioid compounds,” but appears to ignore whether they actually help patients and could allow pharmacy arrangements like the one described by the Inquirer to continue uncheckedThe announcement further mentions possible implementation of opioid prescribing “guidelines,” while failing to explain if these “guidelines” can even be enforced.  Executive Orders do not carry the full force of the law; they are inherently temporary solutions and their implementation can be fraught with delays and loopholes.  This is simply not an adequate alternative to S.B. 936.

“Governor Tom Wolf has spoken eloquently about addressing the opioid crisis and twice declared it an official state emergency,” PA Chamber President and CEO Gene Barr said.  “But policymakers must also pursue all reasonable and responsible action to fight this tragic situation…We look forward to working with the legislature and the governor to implement an approach that will truly protect workers by getting them medications that are safe and effective, and will allow them to return to full health and work in a timely manner.”

Department of Community & Economic Development Requests Participation in Community Needs Survey

The Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) is requesting citizens take a short community needs survey to assist in its work. This community needs survey will provide another avenue for the citizens of Pennsylvania to contribute their opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of their community. DCED will use the survey results to help identify funding priorities for six federal Housing & Urban Development programs: CDBG, HOME, ESG, NSP, HOPWA, and HTF. It will also assist in the future development of programs at the state level. This survey will also assist DCED in targeting and leveraging resources to address the needs for stronger and vibrant communities. Participation is anonymous, and DCED will place a copy of the aggregated results on its website

This survey will close at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 31, 2018. Any questions on the survey or how to complete it may be sent via email or by contacting Megan Snyder, Center for Compliance, Monitoring, and Training at 717-720-7404.

State Website Can Help Employers With Workplace Safety

Workers’ compensation costs associated with incidents in the workplace are a considerable portion of an employer’s business costs. Learn how to reduce your workers’ compensation costs through effective, proactive health and safety training programs that will benefit your employees and your bottom line.

Pennsylvania Training for Health and Safety, or PATHS, is a resource for employers and workers throughout the state.

PATHS is a no-fee, statewide service established by the Department of Labor & Industry, Bureau of Workers’ Compensation’s Health and Safety Division to provide employers and employees with easy access to cost-effective health and safety resources. Services provided by PATHS will enable participants in the workers’ compensation system achieve greater efficiencies in their workers’ compensation cost-containment efforts by creating safer, accident-free workplaces.

The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act was amended in 1993 to address health and safety requirements in the workplace. The addition of sections 1001 and 1002 in the act conveys the importance of having a health and safety program in the workplace, and established a 5 percent discount for qualified proactive health and safety programs.

PATHS provides employers with a single, comprehensive website to view all health and safety related training sessions available through reputable sources. The website allows employers to maximize training schedules for workers. This training will enable employers to reduce workplace safety- and health-related incidents, resulting in workers’ compensation policy premium reductions.

At the PATHS website you can:

View . . . health and safety training PowerPoint briefings.

Review . . . course descriptions, objectives and schedules.

Participate . . . Employers can register online to participate in webinars and training sessions. The Health & Safety Division will host training sessions and conferences on a broad range of health and safety-related topics, including safety culture workshops. Most sessions are free and are open to everyone.

Learn… about health and safety in the workplace, including accident & illness prevention programs/program elements and the cost benefits associated with a proactive program and forming a certified safety committee to qualify for the 5-percent workers’ compensation premium discount.

Medical Assistance Work Requirements Bill Passes State House

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Legislation to enact reasonable reforms regarding medical assistance eligibility and help encourage employment passed the state House last week in a 115-80 vote, after considerable debate.

The bill would generally require able-bodied adults receiving Medicaid to work, seek employment or participate in job training, with numerous exemptions. This effort is consistent with the PA Chamber’s workforce development efforts to facilitate employment and help employers find qualified job applicants among a pool of potential talent.

“In 2011, Pennsylvania became the last state in the country to require individuals receiving unemployment compensation benefits to demonstrate they are looking for a job,” PA Chamber Government Affars Director Alex Halper said in a memo to House lawmakers prior to the vote. “While some initially opposed this requirement and there continues to be room for improvement in its administration, we believe it has generally achieved its objectives of encouraging work and connecting employers with potential applicants. We believe H.B. 2138 will help achieve similar objectives and we urge you to support it.”

The bill now awaits further consideration by the state Senate.

House Passes Several Tax Reform Bills to Help Small Businesses

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The state House passed three PA Chamber-backed measures last week that would bring clarity to the state’s tax structure, improve competition and help level the playing field for small businesses.

House Bill 331, which passed by a nearly unanimous vote, aims to allow for “like-kind” exchange of tax deferrals when a property is exchanged with a similar property. This would put the Commonwealth in line with every other state, removing a disadvantage that Pennsylvania’s small businesses face when competing with businesses across state lines.

The House also passed H.B. 333, which would increase deductible amounts for qualifying small business equipment purchases. This move would bring Pennsylvania in line with the federal Internal Revenue Code, and with 33 other states that currently allow businesses to deduct the full purchase price of $1 million per year. To put that in context, under current law, businesses in Pennsylvania may only claim $25,000 for these purposes.  “Pennsylvania is unique in being the only state that allows for full Section 179 expensing for  larger businesses while not allowing small businesses to do the same,” PA Chamber Government Affairs Vice President Sam Denisco said in a memo to House lawmakers prior to the vote. “As we have all seen subsequent to the enactment of federal tax reform, employers are investing back into their companies, rewarding their employees, and hiring more workers. By coming into line with federal law, small businesses will have more resources and flexibility to grow and the PA Chamber asks for your support.”

Another important tax reform bill that House lawmakers passed unanimously last week was H.B. 994, which aims to bring clarity to the Gross Receipts Tax statute regarding wireless services.  Under current law, wireless services are subject to both of the Sales and Use Tax and GRT at 6 and 5 percent, respectively. However, while Pennsylvania follows clear and updated language under the federal Mobile Telecommunications Sourcing Act regarding the SUT on telecommunications, GRT definitions haven’t been modernized. This has created confusion as to whether wireless series are included in that tax base, which H.B. 994 would remedy by inserting the clear definitions from the SUT statute into the GRT statute. “This would bring consistency between the application of the sales and use tax and gross receipts taxes,” Denisco said in a memo to House members. “It would also eliminate confusion and uncertainty over which services were subject to taxation both now and in the future.”

Representatives Kurt Masser and David Millard voted in favor of all three of these bills.

All three bills now await further consideration in the state Senate.