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Monthly Archives

October 2011

SAFETY TRAINING: A WORD TO THE WISE

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

This real-life case reinforces the need for every business to provide OSHA-required training.

A West Virginia company assigned a new employee – call him Jim – to drive a forklift, even though he had no experience or training in forklift operation “There’s nothing to it,” his supervisor told Jim. “It’s just like driving a car.” However, his first few weeks on the job turned out to be bumpy. Several times on each shift, while driving the forklift, he would knock things over. Although the supervisor warned Jim to be more careful, he continued to bump his way through the workday, leaving a trail of destruction wherever he went.

About three weeks after being hired, Jim’s supervisor instructed him to drive down a narrow aisle between two rows of stacked, loaded pallets. After objecting, Jim reluctantly proceeded down the aisle. His left foot, which was dangling outside the forklift where it shouldn’t have been, became pinned between the forklift and the wall of pallets. Jim suffered multiple fractures of the foot, together with a badly twisted knee; both injuries required surgery. Instead of going back to work, Jim went to court, filing suit against his employer and his supervisor for negligence.

His argument was clear: The company and his supervisor failed to provide safety training that could have prevented the accident. Jim’s attorney told the court that, although OSHA regulations mandated specific training, testing, and certification for forklift operators, the company had not trained, tested, or certified him. This meant that Jim should not have been operating a forklift – and if he hadn’t been doing so, the accident would not have taken place.

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia agreed, ruling there was sufficient evidence to prove that both the employer and the supervisor were negligent. When they hired the employee; they knew that federal law required proper training or certification of forklift operators. Allowing Jim to drive a forklift without proper training was an act of negligence.

The message: Failure to provide OSHA-required training is a huge mistake. Whenever you hire new employees or assign workers to new jobs with new hazards, make sure that they receive proper training from the get-go. Never allow an employee to operate dangerous equipment or perform any other hazardous job until they have completed the required training and demonstrated competence, as well as understanding the hazards and necessary precautions.

COURT LIMITS REINSTATEMENT OBLIGATIONS AFTER 12 WEEKS OF FMLA LEAVE

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

In the case of Rogers v County of L.A., the court ruled that an employee who was out on more than 12 weeks of leave no longer enjoyed protection under the FMLA for job reinstatement. Here’s the court’s ruling (edited for brevity):

First, the CFRA statutory language (which mirrors the FMLA) expressly allows an employee “to take up to a total of 12 workweeks in any 12-month period.” The statute also requires an employer to provide “a guarantee of employment in the same or a comparable position upon the termination of the leave.”

Second, other obligations under the CFRA are tied expressly to the 12-week protected leave policy. For example, the employer may require the employee to use accrued sick leave “during the period of the leave.” The employer is only required to maintain and pay for coverage in a Group Health plan “for the duration of the leave, not to exceed 12 workweeks in a 12-month period.” Under certain circumstances, the employer can recover premiums paid for maintaining coverage for the employee under the Group Health plan if the employee “fails to return from leave after the period of leave to which the employee is entitled has expired.”

Third, other courts interpreting the CFRA and the FMLA have concluded that the statutes only ensure protected leave for a 12-week period. In the Neisendorf case, the court cited three federal cases holding that an employer does not violate the FMLA when it fires an employee who is unable to return to work at the conclusion of the 12-week protected period.

Finally, policy considerations underlying the FMLA, which closely parallels our CFRA, support our conclusion. In enacting the FMLA, Congress was concerned about “inadequate job security for employees who have serious health conditions that prevent them from working for temporary periods. “The purposes of the FMLA are: “(1) to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families, (2) to entitle employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons, and (3) to accomplish [these] purposes … in a manner that accommodates the legitimate interests of employers.”

Bottom line: Let employees know that there is no ADA job protection after 12 weeks of leave. Also, remember that you might still have an accommodation obligation under the ADA to do the job for which you hired them, unless doing so constitutes an undue hardship (which was not argued in this case).

DOCTRINE OF “UNCLEAN HANDS” BARS EMPLOYEE FROM RECOVERY

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

In the California case of Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co., the court denied an ADA and Workers Comp retaliation claim when the employer discovered after the fact that the Social Security number that Salas had used to secure employment with the company belonged to a man in North Carolina! In making its ruling, the court noted that Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), requires that employers refrain from knowingly hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized aliens.

However, the IRCA also “prohibits aliens from using or attempting to use “any forged, counterfeit, altered, or falsely made document” or “any document lawfully issued to or with respect to a person other than the possessor for purposes of obtaining employment in the United States.”

“These facts, if not genuinely disputed by Salas, would entitle Sierra Chemical to judgment as a matter of law based on the complete defense of the after-acquired-evidence doctrine … Salas misrepresented a job qualification imposed by the federal government, i.e., possessing a valid Social Security number that does not belong to someone else, such that he was not lawfully qualified for the job. Further, Salas placed Sierra Chemical in the position of submitting a perjurious I-9 form and filing inaccurate returns with the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration. In these circumstances, Salas should have no recourse for an allegedly wrongful failure to hire.”

The court further ruled that the “unclean hands doctrine” barred the plaintiff’s wrongful discharge and contractual claims because “[p]laintiff’s misrepresentations went to the heart of the employment relationship and related directly to her wrongful discharge and contractual claims … In light of the nature of the misrepresentation, the fact that it exposed Sierra Chemical to penalties for submitting false statements to several federal agencies, and the fact that Salas was disqualified from employment by means of governmental requirements, we conclude that Salas’s claims are also barred by the doctrine of unclean hands.”

As a last-ditch effort to continue his case, the plaintiff tried to rely on a California bill passed to provide broader protections to workers under state law. The court dismissed this effort as well, stating that, “the provisions of SB 1818 make explicit California’s preexisting public policy with regard to the irrelevance of immigration status in enforcement of state labor, employment, civil rights, and employee housing laws. Thus, if an employer hires an undocumented worker, the employer will also bear the burden of complying with this state’s wage, hour and Workers Compensation laws.”

“However, while SB 1818 provides that undocumented workers are entitled to [a]ll protections, rights, and remedies available under state law, the enactment does not purport to enlarge the rights of these workers, instead declaring that its provisions are declaratory of existing law. Existing law precluded an employee who misrepresented a job qualification imposed by the federal government, such that he or she was not lawfully qualified for the job, from maintaining a claim for wrongful termination or failure to hire … This rule applies regardless of immigration status. Moreover, it does not frustrate the purposes of SB 1818 because it allows undocumented immigrants to bring a wide variety of claims against their employers as long as these claims are not tied to the wrongful discharge or failure to hire … Accordingly, at the time SB 1818 was enacted, an undocumented immigrant possessed no right under state law to maintain a claim for an allegedly discriminatory termination or failure to hire when the claim would otherwise be barred by the after-acquired-evidence or unclean hands doctrines.” Bottom line for employers:

Make sure that you do proper immigration and other background checks and act on any misrepresentations. (We recommend you use www.globalhrresearch.com for this purpose). Also, have a policy that declares that any misrepresentations in the hiring process will result in termination of employment. Add this policy to your job applications. Remember, nobody has a right to lie their way into a job. Also, bear in mind that this is a “narrow” decision, and there are many circumstances (such as wage payments or Work Comp coverage) in which immigration status is not a factor under California law.

FREQUENT ABSENCES FROM WORK DON’T NECESSARILY RENDER AN EMPLOYEE UNQUALIFIED UNDER THE ADA

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled recently that an employee who frequently missed time from work due to chronic fatigue syndrome had the right to present her Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims to a jury. The Court found significant the fact that the employee had been accommodated in the past through a flexible work schedule that allowed her to work regularly.

Facts of the Case: In Valle-Arce v. Puerto Rico Ports Authority, the employee, who worked in the human resources department of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Her symptoms included insomnia, joint and muscle pain and weakness, and headaches.

To accommodate her insomnia, her doctor had suggested changing her work start time from the employer’s standard 7:30 a.m. start time to 9:00 a.m., and she communicated this to her employer. For two years, the employee’s supervisor accommodated her request by allowing her to come in to work later, as long as she completed the requisite 37.5 hours per week or accounted for any shortfall with vacation or sick leave.

Subsequently, the employee was assigned a new supervisor who began to question her flexible schedule almost immediately and monitor her entry and exit times. In addition, the employee alleged that her new supervisor harassed her by, for example, reprimanding her for late arrivals, telling her that insomnia was not an excuse for absences and, sometimes requiring her to obtain doctors’ notes covering absences of one or two days, when the employer’s policy required such notes only for absences of three days or more. Over time, according to the employee, her new supervisor’s alleged harassment caused her CFS symptoms to worsen, to the point that she needed to take two extended medical leaves.

After she returned from her first period of leave, the employee’s supervisor recommended disciplining her for mishandling the reasonable accommodation request of a coworker. The company eventually terminated the employee because she allegedly violated confidentiality rules in handling an employee’s reasonable accommodation request and used her work computer and other work resources for a personal matter during work time. At trial, the lower court granted the employer’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, finding that the employee was not a qualified individual under the ADA because attendance was an essential function of her job. The employee then filed an appeal.

The Court’s Ruling: On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated the lower court’s decision. Although acknowledging that attendance is an essential function of any job, the Court noted that the employee presented evidence that the flexible work schedule she had requested as an accommodation would have allowed her to fulfill the essential function of attendance. The employee testified that she had never been reprimanded during the time her former supervisor had allowed her to work a flexible schedule; and that the stress caused by her new supervisor’s alleged haranguing about her attendance led to her having to take extended medical leave, leading to the long absences on which the trial court based its ruling that she was unqualified.

The Court also held that a jury might have considered the employee’s testimony regarding poor treatment by her new supervisor to be evidence of disability discrimination or retaliation for her requests for a reasonable accommodation. Finally, the Court noted, the employee presented enough evidence for a jury to question whether her termination was retaliatory, as she testified that other employees used their computers for personal matters and that she did not violate any agency policies in her handling of her co-worker’s reasonable accommodation request.

Practical Impact: The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 makes it far easier for employees to show that their health condition qualifies as a disability. In this case, the employee was accommodated under the regime of a prior supervisor, but her new supervisor was less willing to accommodate her request for flexible work hours.

Although new supervisors are generally free to enforce attendance standards that a prior supervisor did not, if the new supervisor rejects a prior accommodation that allowed the individual to meet the essential functions of their position, as was the case here, the employer could face liability under the ADA.

Article courtesy of Worklaw® Network firm Shawe Rosenthal (www.shawe.com).

EDITOR’S COLUMN: MANAGING THE SECOND-GREATEST RISK AT YOUR COMPANY

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

The greatest risk any business, including yours, faces is lack of proper sales and marketing. With today’s commoditization of products and services, it’s the experience that tends to matter most. Those companies that produce the best sales and marketing experience will usually be the most profitable. That’s why roughly half of all training dollars go for sales and marketing training. If one salesperson outsells another one 2 to 1, you have a 100% variance. That’s a good reason to spend money on sales training. The remaining training dollars go toward everything else: From operations, technology, customer service, finances, to — you guessed it — HR!

The second greatest risk your company faces is not having quality HR practices. Most companies have randomized ones. Do you? Anytime I’ve run the HR That Works Cost Calculator for a client, the “variance,” cost, or risk associated with the company’s HR practices come to at least 10% of payroll. This figure combines a company’s hiring practices, employee productivity, turnover, teamwork, time management, safety record, employment practice exposures, and other factors. When you think about it, the only other area of your business with this high a variance might be customer service. This means that sales, marketing, human resources, and customer service have the greatest variance within an organization – and, thus, the greatest amount of risk. Unfortunately, few businesses can insure themselves against these risks. It’s Darwinism at its best.

If any other part of your business had a 10% or greater variance, you’d be in a heap of trouble. If you have a 10% variance in how you manage your financial books, you’d probably be in jail. A 10% variance in product quality would mean you’d be facing liability suits regularly. A 10% variance in how you deliver your professional services would lead to a high frequency of E&O claims.

I’ll be the first to admit that HR isn’t sexy. However, my point is that it can be and should be! Sales and marketing is all about “them.” HR is about “us” – about who we are as human beings, not just human resources. I’m amazed that more HR professionals don’t take greater advantage of the HR opportunity. Perhaps you’re primarily engaged in administrative or financial functions and have been handed the HR role. That’s awesome. If you don’t like the idea of HR, then call it something else, such as the “People Excitement” role. Call it whatever will work. However, don’t underestimate the opportunity you’ve been handed.

One of the roles of HR is to make sure that our employees are promise keepers. They have to live up to the promises our sales and marketing communications make. Ultimately, the sales and marketing promise means delivering great client or customer experiences. That’s what matters now more than anything else. How can you, as an HR manager, help employees deliver great customer experiences?

If neither you nor nobody else in the company wants to jump on this opportunity, hire somebody part-time to help you do it. Think about it this way: How would you like to have poor hiring practices, high employee turnover, low productivity, poor teamwork, lousy training, high Workers Comp and Employment Practices claims, misuse of benefits — and a ton of unnecessary and expensive and destructive drama? All of a sudden, having good HR practices doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

What’s most important is what needs to be done now. Where’s the stress in your organization? What feels unfair to people? We can certainly try to help eliminate some of the victimization in the workplace. At the same time, we have to ask, “What’s going exceptionally well?” How can we support getting twice of that? How can this provide a model for other departments or functions?

The unfortunate truth is that most people who wear the HR hat in small to mid-sized companies aren’t really excited about their job; in a sense, they got the job by default. Chances are that they didn’t say, “I can’t wait to get a hold of this and kick you know what!” Let’s hope that you or your HR manager isn’t that kind of person. Don’t give up on trying to make a difference just yet. Focus on the value to help generate greater productivity, profitability, and joy on a daily basis. Focus on the potential that exploiting such an opportunity can provide, not just for the company, but for the manager’s career and well-being.

How can you start being this person if you wear the HR hat? My answer: Begin by doing at least one proactive thing every month to improve some part of the HR function. Don’t have a narrow view of what HR can stand for. It’s not just about payroll, benefits administration, and making sure that you’re compliant. It’s about tapping into people’s heads and hearts so that you can create something special together. There are plenty of tools on HR That Works to support you on this journey. Begin to educate yourself by reading the newsletter or listening to podcasts, and then you tackle one proactive strategy a month. Take a look at the HR Implementation Plan to give you some great ideas. Do this for a year and you’ll be able to look back and be proud of the body of work you’ve generated. Also, make sure to report to ownership or management the strategy you’ve developed and how it will impact the company (a one-page memo will suffice). Here are 10 quick steps you can take to start making a difference today:

  1. Make sure your employee handbook is up to date. Have an attorney review it. Then bring it to life. To see the sample employee handbook we did for the San Gabriel YMCA, click here. Now that’s an awesome employee handbook!
  2. Skill-test all your employees. Go to www.Previsor.com to see what test(s) they offer for each one of your positions. The cost will probably come to $20 to $50 or per employee – an investment that’s more than worth it. The test results will give you facts, rather than assumptions, letting you know which employees have the skill sets and which need some training.
  3. Make sure everyone –managers and rank-and-file employees alike – has gone through sexual harassment training. They need to know the company’s policy and acknowledge it annually. When I spoke to a CEO group recently, one of the participants told me that her company had just settled a sexual harassment case that she felt was frivolous for $350,000! Fortunately, the company had Employment Practices Liability Insurance, which offset much of the settlement cost. HR That Works offers a variety of lawsuit prevention tools and training.
  4. Create your team rules. Look at the sample Team Rules template on HR That Works and tweak it to work for your company. Make the rules something in which you can take pride. Once you finalize it, go down to Kinko’s, have it blown up and laminated, and then have all your employees sign it so that they can walk by and have an attachment to it every day.
  5. Require use of the Overtime Authorization Form. One of our printing press clients with 80 employees saved roughly $100,000 in one year by using it. “Unwarranted” overtime fell by $5,000 the first month they used the form – a $60,000 annual saving. Next, the company analyzed those clients who were causing “legitimate” overtime and realized that it wasn’t passing along this added expense to them – which meant that the firm was barely breaking even or losing money on these jobs. They let their clients know about the costs of last-minute demands and told them they would charge them a premium in the future. The company sent clients who didn’t want to go along with this program off to its competitors. Finally, to minimize overtime stemming from poor internal practices, the company applied TQM to these activities.
  6. Set up a lunch-and-learn program (preferably monthly) for your management team. Use these programs to do “workshops” in which you set a theme, present a challenge, and work as a team to come up with some solutions. Other meetings can focus on a learning mode. Watch one of the excellent HR That Works leadership Webinars — any one of them will suffice as a start. Most managers outside of the sales arena get very little training, perhaps because businesses are concerned about its time and cost. If you have employees who are classified as exempt, you’re certainly allowed to have them eat a healthy lunch and hold a one-hour training session or workshop. You might get so excited about the idea that you even start doing these on a bi-weekly basis.
  7. Join a “mastermind group” with other HR executives. These groups support each other, challenge each other, and put your feet to the fire. All the successful executives I know are in mastermind groups. I ran a group for senior HR executives because they realized that had a personal need for it. If you’re an HR That Works Member and would like to start such a group, e-mail me, and I’d be happy to send you a whole protocol and process that will help you get started.
  8. Distribute the Employee Compliance Survey. This is the single most powerful compliance form ever designed. Plaintiff’s lawyers don’t want you using it because it can cut the amount of employment law litigation in half. Because I no longer litigate, I have no qualms about making sure you use this powerful document. I don’t know of a single company using this tool that has suffered an employment verdict. An attorney from Tennessee told me that his client had won a summary judgment using the form; I also had a call from a company in Fort Lauderdale who said that after employees wrote “Fifth Amendment” across the form they did an investigation and found a serious sexual harassment situation that was about to evolve into an employee lawsuit. I would suggest distributing the form twice a year.
  9. Run your numbers in the HR That Works Cost Calculator by clicking here. I’d encourage you to watch my explanatory video first. These numbers will help you identify your HR story from a bottom-line perspective, and provide all the ammunition you need to liberate some of your time so you can do a better job of working on HR – not just in HR.
  10. Survey your management team by using the HR Department Survey. Don’t guess at what types of support the rest of the management team needs from HR. Survey them to find out. I find that in companies where HR is not strategic in nature, it will receive good scores for payroll and benefits administration and low scores for hiring, performance management, or training.

Conclusion: Those are a handful of ideas to help get moving on doing something with this opportunity. There’s magic in doing one of them today!

LIFE INSURANCE IS IMPORTANT FOR ALL, BUT VITAL FOR THE SELF EMPLOYED

By Life and Health | No Comments

Autonomy, freedom, flexibility – there are certainly perks to being a self-employed individual. However, there are also some disadvantageous, mainly not having a benefit plan provided. You’re essentially on your own when it comes to obtaining Life, Health, Disability, and other insurance benefits. As a self-employed individual, you’re placing your family at significant financial risk if you don’t own a Life insurance policy. Such a policy would not only provide your surviving family with a monetary benefit if something was to unexpectedly happen to you, but also provide coverage for your debts related to sole proprietorship.

Why Is It Important for Everyone to Have Life Insurance? Any credible financial expert will tell you that you need the protection of Life insurance whether you’re employed by yourself or any other entity. The need is even greater if you have a family or loved ones reliant upon your income. Most people will be able to earn a living and support their family’s needs and lifestyle as long as need be. However, unexpected deaths happen everyday. Without Life insurance, an unexpected death could leave your family in an insurmountable financial crisis.

Imagine for a moment the financial repercussions your family might face should you die without Life insurance and they lost the financial support of your income. Would they be able to pay for your burial, funeral, and medical bills; maintain their current lifestyle; meet financial obligations like mortgages, car loans, utilities, credit cards; be able to send children to college?

If questions like the above give you any reason to question your family’s financial security, then you need to have an effective Life insurance plan in place to ensure that your family’s financial needs and obligations will be provided for should you pass away.

Why Is It Vital for Self-Employed Individuals to Have Life Insurance? Everyone clearly needs Life insurance, but this need is especially important for the self-employed. One of the main reasons for this is that the law doesn’t distinguish between your business and personal assets. In other words, you’re legally financially responsible, whether that be with personal or business assets, for any and all debts related to your business.

Let’s say you’re the owner of a sole proprietorship and you die. The business will legally come to an end in the eyes of the law. The losses and/or debts related to your business, such as from business loans; federal, state, and local taxes; money due to vendors, contractors, suppliers, and employees; lease or mortgage payments; and so forth, are now the responsibility of your estate. The result – your surviving family could be forced to sell off your personal assets to pay the business-related financial obligations and debts, thereby leaving them with less, if any, money to provide for the family’s ongoing personal financial needs.

Such a scenario can be avoided by having a Life insurance plan that will adequately cover both your business-related debts and your family’s ongoing financial needs. Our financial professionals can help you to determine your Life insurance options and which would best fit your unique business and personal needs.

EXPIRATION OF DRUG PATENTS WILL BRING COST REDUCTIONS IN PRESCRIPTION COSTS

By Life and Health | No Comments

Consumers who are willing to accept the generic form of popular medication brands will soon have the benefit of saving hundreds or thousands of dollars. During the following two years, six of the 10 most popular drugs will lose their patents. This means that other companies are free to make the medications and sell them. By doing this, they could provide up to an 80% discount for buyers.

To illustrate an example, consider the drug Lipitor, which is a substance used to lower cholesterol. It has been one of the world’s top-selling drugs in previous years. Its patent expires in November. The drug’s generic equivalent is atorvastatin. Once the patent has expired, millions of people will be purchasing atorvastatin, which will provide a new way for generic drug manufacturers to increase their sales greatly.

Zyprexa, Enbrel and Plavix are also facing upcoming patent expiration. Zyprexa is an anti-psychotic drug that has been selling well for several years. However, the patent expires in October. Plavix, which is a blood thinner, has a patent that will expire in May, 2012. Enbrel is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Its record sales will end in October of 2012 when the patent expires.

One issue that has been debated during the past several years is whether generic drugs are as good as brand-name drugs. The Federal Drug Administration reports that generic drugs have the same quality, purity, strength and stability as popular brands. An upcoming publication in International Angiology will show that astorvastatin is just as effective as Lipitor. This article is based on official studies conducted to compare the two drugs.

There is one negative issue surrounding generic drugs, which is an uneven safety record. In 2008, the generic blood thinner called heparin was recalled by Baxter Healthcare. They found that the drug was contaminated. More than 80 people in the United State and Germany died after ingesting the tainted medication. Although it’s uncertain how many of these deaths were actually caused by the drug, the discovery was detrimental to the company and generic drug sales.

Several studies have shown that some generics don’t perform the same way brand-name drugs do. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported in April that there is about a 10% chance that switching from a brand to generic anti-epilepsy medication could alter the peak concentration of the drug reaching the body. This means that the cost isn’t the only difference between the two types of drugs. Due to rulings in June from the Supreme Court, consumers are no longer able to sue the creators of prescription drugs for any side effects or complications that aren’t indicated on the label. Switching to generics isn’t necessarily a bad idea. However, it’s important to be cautious when making the switch.

TEN THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO LOWER YOUR ANNUAL MEDICAL BILLS

By Life and Health | No Comments

The National Coalition on Health Care reported that U.S. health care spending was more than $2.4 trillion in 2008. Although health care reform may or may not come to full fruition, current medical costs remain astoundingly high.

Aside from the few and far between people that somehow seem to be extraordinarily healthy, most of us have certainly felt a financial impact from continually rising medical expenses. After all, it only takes one trip to the local emergency room or one referral to a specialist to find yourself bombarded with costly medical bills. The good news is that you don’t have to wait on health care reform to save the day. There are several ways that you can proactively reduce the cost of your annual health care expenses and save yourself some serious money:

1. Trade in your name brand prescription for a generic equivalent. Generic drugs are usually accompanied by a lower co-pay, which could save you anywhere from $10 to $50 per prescription. Consult with your physician on your existing prescriptions, as well as any time you’re prescribed a new drug, to determine if he/she would be willing to prescribe a generic drug instead of the more costly name-brand drug. This won’t always be possible for each and every drug, but most common, older drugs will have a generic equivalent.

2. Select a primary care physician. The concept of urgent care centers has made them a quick, convenient, and economical alternative to primary care physicians. However, these entities usually don’t attend to routine medical needs and wellness. It’s also very difficult to develop any type of relationship with the staff since you’ll rarely see the same doctor each time. This is why it’s still very important to select a primary care physician with whom you’ll be able to build a relationship and trust. Likewise, you’re likely to save some money and time by your primary care physician knowing your medical history and being able to make more informed decisions when it comes to your health, diagnosis, and treatment.

3. Routinely review all medications you take. Your primary care physician should routinely ask you about each medication you’re prescribed. Be sure to address how long you’ve been taking each of your medications and their effectiveness and side effects. You and your doctor might decide to discontinue a medication you no longer need or that isn’t effective.

4. Don’t automatically get on the new drug bandwagon. You can’t watch an entire television program nowadays without seeing an ad for some new drug purporting itself as the latest miracle in medicine. Some might have a few advantages over their older counterparts, but the real question is if the new, often more expensive drug is worth the added expense. Make sure that you discuss with your physician the cost difference verses any added health benefit before switching to a new drug.

5. Only make an appointment with a specialist when it’s truly necessary. Your primary care physician can often handle a medical problem without you making a more costly visit to a doctor specializing in a particular branch of medicine, such as a dermatologist or rheumatologist. You might consider changing primary care physicians if they seem to refer you constantly to specialists for every medical ailment you come to them about.

6. Remember that emergency rooms are for emergencies only. If you don’t have an actual medical emergency, make an appointment with your primary care physician, go to your physician office’s after-hours clinic, or, as a last resort, use an urgent care center. For non-emergencies, all of the above options will be cheaper than a trip to the emergency room. Before an emergency arises, you should know what your emergency room co-pay is; the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all the hospitals included under your health care network; and what ambulance services your plan covers. Your insurance card should have a phone number for 24-hour emergency assistance that you can call if you’re unsure how to respond to an emergency.

7. Question the necessity of expensive testing. Sometimes medical tests are necessary, but other times they’re just another pointless and costly medical bill. Ask if the test is absolutely necessary before allowing your physician to schedule it.

8. Don’t go overboard with screening. Screening tests can indeed catch many diseases in their infancy stages. That said, too much of anything can be bad. Screening isn’t an infallible process, and if a false alarm does sound, you can be subjected to unnecessary treatments and their costs. Let your medical history and age guide your screening, not what test is popular month-to-month.

9. Don’t jump the gun. Some medical problems, such as a potential stroke or heart attack, require you to seek immediate medical attention. However, more often than not those minor aches and pains, stomach viruses, common colds, and so forth will subside without a visit to the doctor. Give your immune system and/or less costly over-the-counter medications a few days to work before you see the doctor.

10. Be healthy. A healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy weight, routine exercise, alcohol moderation, avoidance of tobacco, routine medical check-ups, and taking all medications as prescribed will help you lower your medical expenses and keep any existing chronic diseases under control.

POLICY DEDUCTIBLE INCREASES: THE SAFER WAY TO SAVE PREMIUM DOLLARS

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

Money is still tight for many Americans, meaning most are still looking to save when and where they can. Some people have even turned to their insurance policies as a place to cut costs. Insurance can be expensive, but consumers need to ask themselves where and how they can really save money in this area without jeopardizing the protections offered by their coverages.

Two typical places that many insured individuals think they can cut the cost of their premiums are from reducing the dwelling/liability limits on their Homeowners policy and reducing the liability limits on their Auto insurance policy.

In reality, cutting the liability limits on these policies leaves you highly vulnerable to risk and will not ultimately save you any money over the long run. Although you might save a few dollars now with such tactics, it really isn’t worth it when you stop to think about just how much you could lose if you were sued after someone was injured in your home.

If you want to decrease your premiums, a much more prudent way to do it is by increasing the deductibles in your auto and/or home policies. A deductible increase from $250 to $500 could save you up to 15% on your Homeowners insurance premiums. You can save 30% or more on your premiums by raising the physical damage deductible on your Auto insurance policy to $500 or $1,000 dollars.

Some consumers get nervous about not having the $500 to cover their newly raised deductible should they need to file a claim. Since the situation doesn’t involve thousands of dollars in difference, it’s likely to be just as difficult for most people to come up with $500 as it would be $250. The only difference will be that the extra premium savings can be saved and set aside to cover the higher deductible from any future claims. In most cases, the additional $250 could be saved in less than 24 months.

If you’re nervous about taking the larger leap to a $1,000 deductible, then you can always take a slow and steady approach. You might increase your deductible to $500 first. You can open a savings account for the premium dollars you’ll save each month from having a slightly higher deductible. Although it might take some time, you can eventually raise your deductible to $1,000 when you have saved $500 to $750 dollars in the account.

Unlike lowering limits, deductible raises can save you money without placing you at a greater financial risk.

DOG BITE PREVENTION

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

If you own a dog, you should be aware that it is not completely unlikely that your dog might bite. According to 2009 figures from the CDC, approximately 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year. Of these bites, about one in five result in wounds that require medical attention. Furthermore, the property/casualty industry pays out hundreds of millions of dollars to satisfy dog bite claims each year. But you can take steps to make it less likely that your dog will bite.

Prior to bringing a dog into your household:

  • Speak with a professional such as a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, or a responsible breeder to find out which breeds of dogs are the best fit for your household.
  • Dogs with aggressive natures are not appropriate for households with children.
  • Pay attention to cues that a child is apprehensive about a dog. If a child seems fearful of dogs, wait before bringing a dog into your household.
  • Before buying or adopting a dog, spend time with it. Exercise caution when bringing a dog into a household with an infant or toddler.

If you decide to adopt or purchase a dog:

  • Spay or neuter your pet since this action reduces aggressive tendencies.
  • Don’t ever leave young children or babies alone with a dog.
  • Don’t play aggressively with your dog. Avoid wrestling or tug-of-war games.
  • Teach your dog submissive behaviors such as rolling over to expose the abdomen, and giving up food without growling.
  • Seek professional advice from a veterinarian or responsible breeder if the dog develops aggressive or other unwanted behaviors.

Teach children special safety precautions to take around dogs:

  • Children should not approach an unfamiliar dog
  • Don’t run from a dog or scream
  • If an unfamiliar dog approaches, remain motionless
  • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still
  • Report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior to an adult.
  • Avoid making eye contact with a dog.
  • Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
  • If bitten, immediately report the bite to an adult.

Be a responsible pet owner and protect yourself and others from dog bites, pain and suffering, as well as insurance claims!