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ANYONE WHO NEEDS EVIDENCE of the critical importance of employer involvement in the political process need only look to North Carolina for proof.

That's where employers have succeeded in quashing a state proposal that would have severely restricted communication between employers and the physicians treating injured workers.

Risk managers and workers compensation insurers around the country had regarded the North Carolina situation as one of the first skirmishes in what could be a nationwide war over medical records privacy in workers comp. Workers comp payers in other states should heed the active approach North Carolina employers took to preserve more open communication with providers.

North Carolina employers in general -- and risk managers in particular -- took advantage of three days of public hearings and a period for written comments to lobby against the proposal. We believe the North Carolina measure would have slowed the process of getting benefits to injured workers, driven up workers comp costs and, possibly, created new opportunities for workers comp fraud (BI, June 8).

The North Carolina Industrial Commission drafted the rule at the behest of the state's General Assembly, whose order came after a state court decision that ruled the testimony of a doctor who had spoken to a employer's attorney without the injured employee's express permission was inadmissible.

The proposal, known as proposed Rule 409, would have slapped new restrictions on how employers could contact physicians treating injured workers. In fact, the restrictions were so onerous that some employers feared they would, for all practical purposes, be forbidden to speak with the doctors.

But employers and risk managers, using the period of public comment, made their case against the proposal. They made the proposal's potential harm so plain, in fact, that the commission announced this month that it had decided to withdraw the proposed rule.

Instead, a panel of experts -- including North Carolina employers -- will study the issue and suggest alternatives.

By getting their concerns out front and influencing state officials to eliminate the onerous proposal, employers and risk managers have spared themselves a burdensome regulation that could have gone against their best interests.

Hopefully, this example of political risk management at its finest will inspire employers elsewhere when confronted with onerous regulations or legislative proposals.