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Travelers introduces claims app for injured workers
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Travelers introduces claims app for injured workers

Reprints Louise Esola Travelers Cos. Inc. has launched a mobile application aimed at improving the claim experience for injured employees.
MyTravelers for Injured Employees, a web-based, mobile-friendly self-service tool for workers compensation claims, offers injured workers increased access to medical professionals and two-way messaging with a Travelers claim nurse, the insurer said Monday in a statement.
The app, which can be accessed on a computer, tablet or smartphone, provides workers access to a full claim team, including claim and medical professionals, and helps keep injured employees more engaged in the process to help accelerate their recovery, according to the statement.
Two-way document sharing will also be added to the program, allowing injured employees to easily upload materials related to their claim, including state workers compensation forms, work status reports, mileage trackers and medical reports.
“Our latest capabilities not only speed up access to medical care and make it easier to communicate, but they also address our customers’ top concerns — the health of their employees and the rising costs of health care,” Rich Ives, Hartford, Connecticut-based vice president of workers compensation claim at Travelers, said in the statement.

Wearable device logs workforce twists and turns
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Wearable device logs workforce twists and turns

Reprints Louise Esola SAN ANTONIO — Employers and their insurers may have found a missing link in solving the mystery of the Monday-morning workers compensation injury.
Wearable technology can now track and measure movement to gauge the time and extent of a soft-tissue injuries, presenters told attendees at the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.’s annual conference Wednesday in San Antonio.
Serving as the twisting, bending and golfer-simulating Guinea pig, Lance Ewing, executive vice president for global risk management and client services at Katy, Texas-based Cotton Holdings Inc., showed attendees how a belt-like device can show how fast he’s moving, where he’s moving, how much force is involved and more.
A screen to the left showed digital snapshots that had the appearance of a hospital heart monitor displaying movement in real time.
“Employees do this all the time, a lot of twists and turns … office employees, plant workers,” Mr. Ewing said, demonstrating.
This monitors what employees do every day.” Eric Martinez, founder and CEO of Clemson, South Carolina-based Modjoul Inc., who brought to the market the device Mr. Ewing was demonstrating, said if employers can know what and when the employers are lifting or moving incorrectly in ways that cause lower back pain and injuries, they can help eliminate the issue with better training.
The information, similar to what is gathered when airplanes experience incidents, can tell the employer when the employee had done something inappropriate or had jerked his or her body, as an example to show that some sort of impact or injury had occurred, said Mr. Martinez.
While targeting fraud is one objective, “advocacy and prevention” for workers and their injuries is at the heart of wearable technology, Mr. Martinez said.
“We say, ‘We are not trying to get you fired,’” he said, adding that the technology can help develop better-movement plans for workers, for example.
“Ultimately, it’s we want to say that after you have been working for this company for 35 years, you won’t have this aching back situation.”

Can agency that brought us government cheese protect U.S. farmers from trade war fallout?
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Can agency that brought us government cheese protect U.S. farmers from trade war fallout?

A program that brought Americans government cheese four decades ago could get tapped to protect U.S. farmers if escalating tariff threats between the U.S. and China break out into a full-fledged trade war.
But U.S. lawmakers and experts question whether taxpayers would support spending billions of dollars through the Commodity Credit Corp. to purchase surplus food to support farmers.
President Trump has promised to protect U.S. farmers from the backlash of an escalating trade dispute with China, directing U.S. Ag Secretary Perdue earlier this month to use “his broad authority to implement a plan to protect American farmers and agriculture.”
More: China’s economic growth holds steady amid trade dispute with U.S., President Trump More: Trump China tariffs could hike prices for TVs, batteries by 23%, study shows Perdue has been tight-lipped about how he proposes to help farmers, saying he doesn’t want to give “away our playbook” to China.
While it might be best known for giving millions of pounds of cheese to Americans during the 1980s and 1990s, the Commodity Credit Corp. also buys and donates surplus food supplies to schools, food banks and countries struggling with hunger, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University economist.
The agency, a government-owned corporation with $30 billion in bonding authority, makes loans and provides direct payments to farmers when prices for corn, soybeans, wheat and other products are low.
Soybeans and pork production, two areas in which Iowa is a national leader, would likely see some of the biggest hits with added Chinese tariffs. ‘It’s not getting any better’ Trump has proposed replacing a portion of the federal food stamp program with American Harvest Boxes containing food delivered to recipients’ front doors, similar to Blue Apron and other grocery services.
Ramping up the federal surplus food buyout program could help food banks in the short-run, said Michelle Book, Food Bank of Iowa’s CEO.
About 30 percent of the Food Bank’s food comes through the program, said Book, whose group supplies groceries to about 500 food banks and pantries in 55 counties.

Financial stress is rising for low- and middle-income U.S. households
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Financial stress is rising for low- and middle-income U.S. households

USA TODAY Despite an improving economy that should be easing the financial struggles of all Americans, a growing number of low- and middle-income households are plagued by high debt and have little or no savings.
They are people like Alejandra Mejia of San Jose, Calif., whose paycheck can’t cover higher housing costs.
Or Dawn Thorp, in Phoenix, whose disability payments don’t offset higher gasoline prices, electric bills or rent.
Such people are far more likely to eventually fall behind on loans and rein in spending.
Even more troubling: About 25 million low-income households that earn $23,000 or less face growing burdens, with nearly half of that bottom 20% of income earners stressed in 2016, up from 45% in 2013, UBS figures show.
Only 3.6% of households in the top 40% of income earners were stressed in 2016, down from 4.5% in 2013, UBS figures show, with many enjoying both low mortgage rates and soaring stock prices.
More: How to lower your housing costs, whether you rent or own More: Here’s how many hours of work it takes to pay rent in 11 major U.S. cities
“It’s very difficult,” she says, adding that she can’t afford a car or new clothes for her children and has no savings.
That debt figure is near an all-time low.
The share of all households at least 90 days delinquent on auto loans rose from about 3% to 4.1% between 2014 and 2016, UBS figures show.

States aren’t waiting for Washington to require poor residents to work
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States aren’t waiting for Washington to require poor residents to work

Otherwise, they can only receive benefits for up to three months every three years.
But states can request waivers of the work requirement for areas where unemployment is at least 10% or there is an insufficient number of jobs, as defined by the Department of Labor.
Instead, they say these food stamp recipients should start moving toward independence by getting jobs or enrolling in training programs.
By the end of May, recipients in 112 counties will be subject to the three-month time limit on benefits if they don’t work, up from 20 counties at the end of last year.
Lifting these waivers will impact most of the 87,000 Kentucky adults in the program who don’t have dependents, according to the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.
In West Virginia, state officials will start phasing out the number of counties with work requirement waivers later this year.
But in October 2022, West Virginia will no longer be able to apply for a waiver for any county, no matter the economic circumstances, according to a bill passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Jim Justice last month.
The bills aim to apply the work requirement to parents of school-age children, to increase the number of hours food stamp recipients must work and to explore developing employment plans for those living in public housing.
Many of the proposals will require either federal approval or a change in federal law.
Three states — Kentucky, Indiana and Arkansas — have already received federal approval to do so.

Softer tone and focus on job training at ASU+GSV, the glitzy educational technology conference.
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Softer tone and focus on job training at ASU+GSV, the glitzy educational technology conference.

Weise and others said this means change for more than higher education.
“The only way I can retain talent is to create it,” he said.
Carson from Treehouse, however, was more critical of traditional colleges than many other panelists at the conference, suggesting the college degree may be overrated.
“Why not just go around them?” His fellow panelists pushed back, arguing that despite their flaws, college degrees help employers assess job applicants while also allowing workers to have “portability” to move across jobs.
Seleznow, for example, warned that apprenticeships without the imprimatur of the federal registration process can be of lower quality.
“There’s rigor in the standards,” Seleznow said.
“Our equity gaps are as bad as they’ve ever been,” said Martha Kanter, a former U.S. under secretary of education during the Obama administration, adding that roughly half of college students now receive federal Pell Grants, which shows “who’s in the pipeline.” As universities adjust to better serve growing numbers of older and lower-income students, conference speakers suggested they would be wise to study what works well among upstart providers, including coding and skills boot camps.
A high-profile example on display here is the move by California’s community college system to create a statewide fully online institution that will issue only nondegree credentials aimed at working adults.
“We’ll see higher education transform the way we did,” said Jonathan Lau, the vice president and general manager of skills at Cengage Learning.
Schwartz didn’t attend because he was with his company’s employees.

Reducing opioid use requires multipronged approach
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Reducing opioid use requires multipronged approach

Reprints Louise Esola SAN ANTONIO — The head of risk management for a company whose 454,000 workers are tasked with delivering 2.5 million packages around the world each day, said solving the opioid crisis will take a multitude of strategies.
“There’s no silver bullet,” Michael Fenlon, Atlanta-based senior director for corporate risk management for United Parcel Service Inc., told attendees at the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.’s annual conference in San Antonio on Tuesday.
Mr. Ruser said numerous strategies put in place nationwide and in individual states are working in concert to lower unnecessary opioid prescribing in workers comp — echoing the common sentiment in comp circles and what Mr. Fenlon has noticed in his own workforce.
The solution involves everyone from the injured worker to the legislation in their respective states, to the claims managers and providers, they said.
UPS has several protocols in place for injured workers who have opioid prescriptions.
Strategies include case managers for individual workers, “opioid letters” to both the worker and his or her prescriber that explain the drugs’ dangers, and “red-flag” notifications that tell a claims manager what a worker was prescribed and how much, said Mr. Fenlon.
Today, with tighter programs in place at UPS, 21% of injured workers receive a prescription for opioids, representing 22% of total drug spend, he said.
Overall between 2013 and 2017, UPS has seen a 30% decrease in lost time claims receiving opioid prescriptions, Mr. Fenlon said.
Overall, states that have implemented prescription drug monitoring programs have seen a noticeable drop in the amount of opioid prescriptions, said Mr. Ruser, highlighting WCRI data from states with programs in place.
His researchers looked at states without PDMPs to see whether their prescribing behavior changed year over year.

Spotting the red flags of workers comp fraud
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Spotting the red flags of workers comp fraud

PHILADELPHIA — The red flags indicating potential workers compensation fraud are evolving, and employers and workers comp insurers must be aware of these new indicators, especially the nature of the injuries.
Pennsylvania’s workers compensation law is designed to be remedial in nature, meaning whenever there is an inequity, it is construed in favor of the injured worker, said Niki Ingram, Philadelphia-based director of the law firm’s workers compensation department.
And that is why we are on a not so level playing field when we go into the courtroom representing insurers.” The traditional red flags are still relevant, including length of employment in terms of new hires claiming injuries or alleged injuries that occur immediately before or following a vacation, retirement or layoff, Ms. Ingram said.
Adjusters should always make sure they get the injured worker’s medical records because they will give a more accurate indication of when the injury actually occurred, she said.
“I think the one instance that drives every employer and carrier crazy is the person who just starts the job and then sustains an injury and is out for two or three years,” Ms. Ingram said.
But those are cases where you should immediately put your antenna up.” Disgruntled employees are also a traditional red flag for workers comp fraud, according to the lawyers.
Two days later, she slipped and fell at work, landing on her shoulders, alleging bilateral shoulder tears.
“This is how brazen a disgruntled employee could be … but in our system, I could have lost that case just as easily as I won if the judge decided to accept the claimant’s doctor as more credible than our doctor,” he said.
“Analytics rules now,” she said.
It rules in insurance.

Food stamp recipients would have to work under proposed farm bill
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Food stamp recipients would have to work under proposed farm bill

Video by Jennifer Sangalang, FLORIDA TODAY Wochit WASHINGTON — Republicans controlling the House are proposing sweeping new work mandates on the nation’s more than 40 million food stamp recipients as they kick off debate on an election-year overhaul of the government’s food and farm programs.
(Photo: Robert F. Bukaty, AP) The legislation has traditionally been bipartisan, blending support from urban Democrats supporting nutrition programs with farm state lawmakers supporting crop insurance, farm credit, and land conservation. “We believe breaking this poverty cycle is very important,” Conaway said.
The latest proposal on food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, would require states to impose stricter uniform work requirements for SNAP recipients between 18 and 59.
Stricter rules apply to able-bodied adults without dependents between the ages of 18 and 49, who are subject to a three-month limit of benefits unless they meet a work requirement of 80 hours per month.
Under the new bill, that requirement would be expanded to apply to all work-capable adults, mandating that they either work or participate in work training for 20 hours per week with the exception of seniors, pregnant women, caretakers of children under the age of six, or people with disabilities.
The new work requirements would take effect in 2021, and increase to 25 hours per week in 2026.
Each new SNAP recipient would have one month to comply with the rule.
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, criticized the bill for “breaking up the long-standing, bipartisan, urban-rural farm bill alliance,” calling it “a dangerous and unproductive step that will only sow division and jeopardize both this and future farm bills.”
The farm bill can give them that.

Can U.S. agency that brought us government cheese protect farmers from tariff fallout?
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Can U.S. agency that brought us government cheese protect farmers from tariff fallout?

But U.S. lawmakers and experts question whether taxpayers would support spending billions of dollars through the Commodity Credit Corp. to purchase surplus food to support farmers.
(Photo: Carrie Antlfinger, AP) President Trump has promised to protect U.S. farmers from the backlash of an escalating trade dispute with China, directing U.S. Ag Secretary Perdue earlier this month to use “his broad authority to implement a plan to protect American farmers and agriculture.”
Perdue has been tight-lipped about how he proposes to help farmers, saying he doesn’t want to give “away our playbook” to China.
While it might be best known for giving millions of pounds of cheese to Americans during the 1980s and 1990s, the Commodity Credit Corp. also buys and donates surplus food supplies to schools, food banks and countries struggling with hunger, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University economist.
The agency, a government-owned corporation with $30 billion in bonding authority, makes loans and provides direct payments to farmers when prices for corn, soybeans, wheat and other products are low.
Soybeans and pork production, two areas in which Iowa is a national leader, would likely see some of the biggest hits with added Chinese tariffs.
The communist country has proposed tariffs on $50 billion in U.S. goods in response to proposed American tariffs on a similar amount of steel, aluminum, electronics and other goods.
Ramping up the federal surplus food buyout program could help food banks in the short-run, said Michelle Book, Food Bank of Iowa’s CEO.
About 30 percent of the Food Bank’s food comes through the program, said Book, whose group supplies groceries to about 500 food banks and pantries in 55 counties. “The Iowa economy really rolls with agriculture, whether you live in a rural area or a city.