Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pennsylvania Legislation Equalizes Treatment for Fallen Heroes

A bill equalizing benefits for first responders was passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature and is on its way to Governor Rendell for signature.

Pennsylvania State Senator Sean Logan, who sponsored the bill, released the following press release detailing the new program:

The State Senate today unanimously concurred in House amendments to state Sen. Sean Logan’s (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) bill that would ensure that the families of public safety employees killed in the line of duty receive death benefits.

The bill, Senate Bill 369, now awaits the governor’s signature.

“By sending this bill to the governor, we are honoring the memory of police officers and emergency personnel whose lives and deeds exemplified true heroism,” Logan said. “I am proud this bill has made its way through both chambers and hope that Governor Rendell will sign this bill into law quickly.”

The Logan bill will guarantee killed-in-service death benefits to all spouses or minor children of a paid firefighter, law enforcement officer and ambulance service or rescue squad member equal to the amount of the decedent’s monthly salary.

“The overwhelming bipartisan effort on this bill again proves the state’s dedication and gratitude to police officers and other emergency responders,” Logan added. “They can now be assured that if something were to ever happen to them in the line of duty, that their loved ones will be okay.”

Under previous law, pension and workers’ compensation payments provided death benefits that covered a portion of the salaries of troopers, officers, firefighters and emergency personnel in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and third-class cities that were killed in the line of duty. Under the bill, the state will now pick up the remaining share.

Prior to this bill, boroughs and townships paid the entire cost of benefits for their police. Senate Bill 369 shifts these costs to the state. A Senate actuarial study estimated the annual cost to the state to be $9,000 for each officer killed in the line of duty.

Sen. Jane C. Orie, Majority Whip (R-Allegheny) added, “I was very pleased at the bipartisan effort that moved this essential legislation protecting the families of fallen police officers and other emergency responders through both chambers and onto the Governor.”

Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) noted, “I am proud to have co-sponsored Sen. Logan’s much-needed legislation. The protections offered by this bill for families should something tragic take place will surely make these brave men and women sleep a little easier at night.”

Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-Phila.) added, “It is unfathomable that we have not offered these protections to these men and women that put their lives on the line for others day in and day out prior to Sen. Logan’s legislation. All Pennsylvanians are lucky to have such a dedicated public safety force and this gesture shows them that they are appreciated.”

Since 2002, 32 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty. Of these officers, nine were members of the current pension plans providing the killed-in-service benefit. The surviving beneficiaries of the remaining 23 law enforcement officers and an additional 15 firefighters were not eligible for the benefit because these public safety employees were not members of the Act 600 pension plan.

See the text of the legislation here.

To learn more about additional benefits for first responders under the Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act and Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act, contact Quatrini Rafferty at 888-288-9748 or email us.

- Quatrini Rafferty -

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

COBRA Subsidy Set to End; Effect of Health Care Bill?

In February, the Quatrini Rafferty blog posted several articles on federal subsidies for COBRA premiums.

With the COBRA program entering its eighth month, and with the subsidy set to end at the end of 2009, National Public Radio discusses the success of the program and its future.

Health Insurance Help For Laid-Off Workers May End

by Sarah Varney

If you have ever lost a job and the health benefits that went with it, you have probably heard of COBRA, the program that requires employers to extend your health coverage for a price.

That price, however, is one that all but a fraction of laid-off workers find much too high. The federal stimulus bill has helped some workers by lowering those payments, but that help may soon run out.

Nicole Pelton, who lost her job in March as a marketing manager in Silicon Valley, says she doesn't want to worry about taking her kids to the emergency room and having no way to pay for it. After the shock of being unemployed eased, she says she worried most about keeping her young family insured.

Help From Subsidy

That's where COBRA comes in — or at least it's supposed to.

"That was going to be about little over $1,000 a month. That was probably more than half the unemployment benefits," Pelton says.

Like countless unemployed people before her, Pelton found that the COBRA coverage was out of her reach — she would have to pay the entire premium.

Then, she found out the federal government would cover two-thirds of the cost for nine months, through a new program approved by Congress in February as part of the stimulus bill. She signed up, and now she pays about $350 a month to cover her family. It is still a big expense, but Pelton and her husband have managed to pay the bill.

"The subsidy came at a good time because it was very expensive, the monthly amount we paid," she says.

The subsidy appears to be having the effect Congress and the Obama administration wanted. No one really knows yet how many people have actually signed up for COBRA. One survey of large companies found that the percentage of eligible laid-off workers who continued their employer health insurance doubled from 19 percent to 38 percent after the subsidy kicked in.

But if the government is picking up most of the bill, why isn't the program even more popular?

Still Expensive

Marian Mulkey, a COBRA researcher at the California Health Care Foundation, says the newly unemployed are being asked to pay 35 percent of the cost even though they don't have jobs.

"That's still a large cost you're being asked to maintain month after month, when you're doubtless facing many other economic challenges and balancing your household budget," Mulkey says.

That's not possible for many families. Even with the federal subsidy, a parent earning minimum wage would still need to pay about a third of her monthly income to afford family coverage. Mulkey says that to make the COBRA coverage more affordable, the subsidy needs to be higher.

Rohan Vaidya earns far more than minimum wage. He was laid off from the software giant Oracle in January. His COBRA subsidy expires in November, and his health coverage will go from $140 a month to $400. Vaidya says he will switch to a cheaper plan.

"I'm 28 years old. I'm relatively healthy, so I don't need comprehensive everything — health, dental and vision," he says. "So something basic is what I'll sign up for."

Under current plans, the COBRA subsidy will expire Dec. 31. Congress may consider extending the subsidy early next year, though there are no details yet on how long it might last.

But all this could be moot if Congress passes even a modest health care bill. Unemployed workers and others who are uninsured could be given a choice of more affordable health plans. There would be government subsidies for those who can't afford it, and insurance companies couldn't deny families like Pelton's because of pre-existing conditions.

In effect, the need for COBRA could simply go away.

You can also listen to the program or download the Podcast here

- Quatrini Rafferty -

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pennsylvania Now In Compliance with Federal Guidelines On Mental Heath Treatment

The following article was posted by WDUQ on their website.

The Pennsylvania House has passed a measure that would bring the state into compliance with three federal insurance laws. House Bill 1593 begins with a mandate that insurance plans offered in the state provide benefits for mental health and substance abuse treatments on a scale comparable to treatment limitations applied to medical and surgical benefits covered by the plan. That would bring the state into compliance with the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Robert Matzie of Ambridge also brings the state into compliance with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The act prohibits discrimination in premiums or contribution amounts on the basis of genetic information of a covered individual or family member. It also prohibits an insurer from requesting genetic testing from an individual trying to obtain coverage. Finally, HB 1593 forces insurance companies operating in Pennsylvania to offer one year of coverage to a dependent child in college who must take a leave of absence from school for medically necessary reasons. Michelle’s Law requires the coverage. The legislation now goes to the Senate for consideration, but Matzie says there is a similar version in the upper chamber that may be considered first. He says he does not care which bill is ultimately signed into law as long as the changes are made.

If the state does not pass the legislation any complaints from policyholders would have to be filed with the federal government rather than the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. Matzie says complaints filed in Washington take much longer to process and are much more complicated to file.

- Quatrini Rafferty -

Monday, October 12, 2009

David S. DeRose and James A. Horchak Certified in Collaborative Law

Quatrini Rafferty attorneys David S. DeRose and James A. Horchak were recently certified as Collaborative Law professionals by the International Association of Collaborative Professionals.

The International Association of Collaborative Professionals describes the program as "a solution-oriented approach for clients determined to prevent permanent damage to relationships -- even difficult relationships. Characterized by dignity and fairness, Collaborative Practice is especially useful in divorce, child custody, and civil disputes where parties agree to maintain collaborative standards. The effects of divorce on children and the quality of life after divorce are especially relevant in Collaborative Practice."

For more information about how the Collaborative Law process can fit into your situation, call Quatrini Rafferty at 724-837-0080 or email us.

- Quatrini Rafferty -

Friday, October 9, 2009

Jessica L. Rafferty Passes Pennsylvania Bar Examination; Joins Quatrini Rafferty as Associate Attorney

Quatrini Rafferty is pleased to announce that Jessica L. Rafferty has joined the firm as an Associate Attorney after passing the Pennsylvania Bar Examination.

Jessica, who is the oldest daughter of founding partner Dennis B. Rafferty, is a graduate of Bucknell University and the George Mason School of Law.

Congratulations Jessica!

- Quatrini Rafferty -

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Quatrini Rafferty Donates / Participates In Allegheny County "Backpack Program"

Quatrini Rafferty attorneys were excited to help out with the 2009 "Backpack Program", which is sponsored and run by the Public Service Committee of the Allegheny County Bar Association. This year more than 85 volunteers gathered to stuff backpacks with school supplies for 700 students at Arsental, Martin L. King, and Woolslair Elementary Schools. This year's event marked a record number of backpacks for the project.

Quatrini Rafferty donated 700 pencil top erasers to the event and QR attorney Michael V. Quatrini volunteered his time stuffing the backpacks.

Read more about the packing event on the Allegheny County Bar Association website

- Quatrini Rafferty -

Monday, October 5, 2009

What are "Specific Loss Benefits" in Workers' Compensation?

A Quatrini Rafferty blog article by Michael V. Quatrini, Esq.

If you are injured at work or suffer from an illness related to work, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act provides you with rights to get your medical expenses and wage-loss benefits covered until you’re able to return to full time work.

But if you have unfortunately lost the use of certain body parts, specific payments might be available. Body parts covered by the act include:
  • thumb
  • finger
  • hand
  • arm
  • leg
  • foot
  • toe
  • sight
  • hearing
The loss can be be as large as payment for the full body part, or, as small as a payment for a portion (half, third, etc) depending on the body part.

In addition to specific payments for loss of a specific body part, compensation may be available for serious and permanent "disfigurement" (i.e. scarring, burns, skin discoloration and/or bruising, etc.) on the head, face or neck. Any other scarring on the body, despite being caused by a work injury and despite being disfiguring, is sadly not compensable.

Under the Workers' Compensation Act it is up to the Workers' Compensation Judge assigned to your case to personally view the scar, discoloration, etc., to determine whether it is or is not disfiguring.
Several of the factors a WCJ should take into consideration are: (1) the texture and color of the employee's skin (2) the manner in which the scar has healed (3) the skill with which the surgeon, in the case of a surgical scar or laceration, has achieved his or her task, and (4) the pre-existing appearance in general, of the injured employee.

you have additional questions about specific loss benefits, please contact one of the workers' compensation attorneys at Quatrini Rafferty by calling us at 1-888-288-9748 or by writing us an email.

- Quatrini Rafferty -

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Expungement Law Expanded in Pennsylvania

A Quatrini Rafferty newsletter article by criminal defense attorney Brian Patrick Bronson, Esq.

A new provision in Pennsylvania law alters the criteria for expungement of criminal records for summary offenses. Expungement is the process that removes past criminal offenses from your record.

Prior to the passage of this law, an expungement could only be granted under specific circumstances. Expungements were limited to juvenile court convictions and to adult criminal charges that were dismissed by a judge or withdrawn by the Commonwealth.

Now, the law permits people convicted of a summary offense to apply for expungement five years after conviction as long as they were not arrested or prosecuted within that time. Examples of summary offenses are underage drinking, disorderly conduct, harassment, and retail theft. However, the law will no longer allow relief for people that committed certain crimes against victims under the age of 18. Even if a matter is expunged for public purposes, law enforcement agencies retain access to this information.

The new law does not change the fact that convictions for more serious offenses known as misdemeanors and felonies are still not expungable in Pennsylvania. The only available option to expunge these records would be a gubernatorial pardon, which is time consuming and difficult to obtain.

To explore whether you may qualify under this new provision, contact Brian Bronson at 724-552-2755 for an appointment.

- Quatrini Rafferty-

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Decision on Reasonable Contest

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court's recent opinion in Thompson v. WCAB (Cinema Center), No. 621 C.D. 2009 (August 14, 2009) debated the issue of reasonable contest.

In Thompson, the injured employee was walking to work when she hit a “lip” in the parking lot where the concrete and asphalt meet and she fell onto her side.

The employer denied the workers' compensation claim, contesting that the employee did not fall on the employer's premises. The employee argued that the employer's contest was unreasonable.

A representative of the employer testified that they own the building but does not own the sidewalk or parking lot. Instead the owner of the entire strip mall owns that property and the employer pays a fee for use and maintenance of “common areas,” which include the sidewalk and parking lot.

The Workers' Compensation Judge found the employee was injured on the employer's premises, but denied the claim for unreasonable contest.

The Workers' Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the decision of the workers' compensation judge.

In concluding that a reasonable contest did exist, the Court remarked that

"the mere fact that the employer leases or even owns a parking lot or garage where the employee was injured is not dispositive of the question of whether a parking area is part of the employer’s 'premises.' Such a determination requires an examination of many other facts, such as the employer’s requirements on parking. Here, the Employer did not own the sidewalk or parking lot but, rather, paid a Landlord a fee for maintenance and the non-exclusive right to use those areas. However, Employer did not mandate where employees should park and the entire parking lot was open for use by members of the public. Although Employer did not prevail, the record shows that there was a genuinely disputed issue as to whether the area where Claimant fell was Employer’s “premises” for purposes of the Act."

Read the entire opinion here.

- Quatrini Rafferty -

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