PA Chamber Urges Lawmakers to Address Protz Fix

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The PA Chamber is urging lawmakers to prioritize the consideration of legislation that would provide a fix to a financially devastating state Supreme Court decision related to workers’ compensation.

Last year, the Court’s decision in the Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board case threw out the Impairment Rating Evaluation process, which for more than 20 years had been a fair and effective way for state-designated physicians to determine whether patients were healthy enough to someday return to work or should continue receiving wage-loss benefits indefinitely. The Court’s ruling – which was essentially based on a technicality – prompted the Pennsylvania Compensation Rating Bureau to file a mid-year loss cost increase, which is raising insurance premiums for Pennsylvania employers and will ultimately impose hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs every year.

The PA Chamber has since spent time educating the business community about reasons behind these anticipated cost hikes while also advocating for a legislative fix. Senate Bill 963, which passed Committee and awaits further consideration in the Senate, and H.B. 1840, which awaits action by the House Labor and Industry committee, would update Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation law to address the concern raised by the Supreme County. The concern centered on a provision of the Act that directed physicians conducting an IRE to use the most recent edition of American Medical Association guidelines. Since the guidelines are updated by AMA doctors periodically without oversight from the Pennsylvania legislature, the Court ruled the legislature has unconstitutionally delegated authority. The two bills, which were introduced by the respective chairs of the Senate and House Labor and Industry Committees, would address this concern by adopting the most recent edition of the AMA guidelines.

The PA Chamber is coordinating a broad-based coalition of supporters for this legislation. In memos sent to lawmakers earlier this year, the coalition – which is comprised of various business, local government, medical and school board groups – urged support for these bills to help save Pennsylvania employers from this heavy financial burden. “The IRE using AMA guides is a nationally accepted means of adjusting to changes that inevitably occur during the course of an employee’s recovery from injury,” the coalition wrote. “S.B. 963 will help ensure the constitutionality of the IRE process by updating the law with the most recent edition of the AMA guides and applying it to future claims. We urge you to support this bill and help save Pennsylvania employers hundreds of millions of dollars in increased insurance costs.”

Health Savings Account Annual Contribution Limit Change

From ChamberChoice

On April 26, 2018, the IRS announced that, for 2018, taxpayers with family high deductible health plan (HDHP) coverage may treat $6,900 as the annual contribution limit to their health savings accounts (HSAs).

Earlier this year, a tax law change for 2018 reduced the HSA contribution limit for individuals with family HDHP coverage from $6,900 to $6,850. After this change was announced, the IRS received complaints that the $50 reduction would be difficult and costly to implement.

The IRS has now decided to allow taxpayers with family HDHP coverage to use the original $6,900 limit for HSA contributions for 2018, without facing excess contribution penalties.   

House Passes Key Regulatory and Permitting Reforms

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

A package of bills that would offer commonsense, long overdue reforms to Pennsylvania’s regulatory and permitting processes cleared the state House last week. 

The bills are part of a broad effort to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens and clarify what are often described by the state’s regulated community as confusing, unpredictable and lengthy permit approval processes. 

“Fundamental and thoughtful change to the state’s regulatory development and permitting process is necessary to ensure that Pennsylvania’s government is operating with respect to the constitutional separation of powers, and that further clarity and predictability is provided to the regulated community as they work to complete projects in communities across the Commonwealth and grow our economy,” PA Chamber President Gene Barr said a statement applauding House lawmakers for passing the legislation.

A brief description of each bill is as follows. All three now await consideration in the Senate.

House Bill 209 — establishes an Independent Office of the Repealer to conduct periodic reviews of the state’s regulations and recommend efficiencies and repeals.

House Bill 1792 — amends the Regulatory Review Act to ensure that the legislative branch, through its respective standing committees, has proper oversight of the various executive agencies developing and finalizing regulatory rulemakings.  This includes appropriately considering public comment, adequately demonstrating statutory authority, accurately balancing costs and benefits and faithfully exercising the delegation of powers by the legislative branch by conforming to legislative intent and statutory language.

House Bill 1959 — provides transparency throughout the permitting process and affords state agencies the ability to contract with third parties to assist in clearing permit backlogs.

In Mission to Build a Stronger Economy, Local Chambers Lead the Way

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

When the Pennsylvania Chamber was founded over a century ago, it recruited one of the rising stars in the chamber world from Massachusetts – Daniel Casey – to visit locales across the Commonwealth and impress upon business owners the value of having their own local chamber of commerce. Newspaper columns from the era raved about the inspirational messaging in Casey’s speeches. To a crowd in Tyrone, Pa. in November 1919, Casey asked them to “Look at any municipality that is thriving and you will find that it is thriving because there is some dynamic power behind it. The Chamber of Commerce is that dynamic power.” The power behind Casey’s words, as described in this article that highlighted Casey’s influence in the PA Chamber’s earlier years, was that he recognized the extent to which employers were interested in public policy, and the impact their interest had on economic growth.

Nearly 100 years later, the PA Chamber still understands the power behind engaging local chambers in the ongoing effort to promote this economic growth. Also of importance is the real-world experience they bring as we work with them to craft the public policies we advocate for every day in the halls of the state Capitol. The majority of the almost 10,0000 members the PA Chamber represents are small business owners who belong to local chambers, and those chambers are acutely aware of the challenges they face operating in Pennsylvania.

“What are you hearing from your members?” is a question that comes up at nearly all of the meetings we have with our local chamber partners throughout the year, and at events where we present updates on the PA Chamber’s legislative priorities. We’re also proud of our ongoing partnership with the PA Association of Chamber Professionals in hosting Chamber Day at the State Capitol. Of course, our local chamber partners don’t have just this one day a year to weigh in on the issues that matter to them the most – we keep the line of communication open 365 days a year so you can always reach out, stay informed and rally alongside us when we need you to.

The most recent example in which we’ve enlisted the backing of local chambers was in garnering support for an important prescription drug bill. Senate Bill 936 – which was a leading PA Chamber priority this session – aimed to implement a prescription drug formulary within Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation system and would have been a critical piece of the puzzle in addressing the state’s ongoing opioid and prescription drug abuse crisis as it relates to injured workers. In dozens of communications to state lawmakers, the PA Chamber listed more than 70 local chambers across Pennsylvania as being in favor of the bill because it would help to mitigate an epidemic that has hit every corner of the state. The term “all politics is local” is truly driven home when discussing the power of local chambers’ support for an initiative such as S.B. 936, because of the impact it has on lawmakers when they realize how the collective business community in their district has weighed in on the issue. It was the extensive support of these local chambers, as well as medical, business and local government groups across the state that helped to get the bill through the state legislature. Unfortunately, despite the aggressive push we made to get S.B. 936 to the finish line, Gov. Wolf ultimately vetoed the bill on April 27 in favor of a series of executive actions that we believe are woefully inadequate to address a crisis of this magnitude. You can read more about our reaction to the veto in this press release.

Despite the disappointing outcome on S.B. 936, the PA Chamber’s shared mission with our local chamber partners – to guide Pennsylvania toward a stronger economy – will continue unabated. We remain focused on working together toward other important workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation reforms. There are other pro-business topics of importance to focus on that Daniel Casey so eloquently referenced in his speeches so long ago – like establishing a competitive tax climate; reducing regulatory red tape; advancing a fair and efficient legal system; among many other issues on which we’ll be enlisting your expertise, opinions and support. Thank you for all you have done to create a pro-business Pennsylvania thus far and we look forward to the number of ways we can work together in the future.

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.”