Tag Archives: Health & Safety

Bedbug Disclosure

The Wall Street Journal Metropolis blog reports that New York Governor David Paterson has signed into law the Bedbug Disclosure Act.

The law requires building owners to disclose a one-year history of bedbug infestations in their buildings to potential tenants.

“New York City tenants have been living in fear of bedbugs, and I am excited to offer them this new protection,† Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, who represents Manhattan’s Upper West Side and sponsored the legislation tells the WSJ.

The bedbug problem appears to be particularly acute in New York City where a number of businesses such as hotels, clothing stores, hospitals and even the Empire State Building have been affected, as well as apartments and homes.

Over at Risk Management Monitor, Jared Wade notes that the wave of bedbug infestations in the city has resulted in a lot of reputation damage to local businesses.

It’s not just the Big Apple that’s been  feeling the bite. This summer has seen a resurgence of bedbug infestations across the United States.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a joint document on bedbug control. In it they acknowledge:

The current national problem with bed bugs is likely due to the convergence of three human behaviors: lack of awareness of the historical and biological link humans have with bed bugs, increased international travel, and past over-reliance on pesticides.”

The EPA and CDC recommend an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to control bedbugs that includes: using monitoring devices; removing clutter where bedbugs can hide; applying heat treatment; vacuuming; sealing cracks and crevices; using non-chemical pesticides and judicious use of chemical pesticides.

This is a good time to mention that from  insurers’ perspective the cost of getting rid of bedbugs, like other vermin, is considered part of the maintenance associated with owning a home and generally is not covered by standard homeowners’ and renters insurance policies.

Most standard commercial property insurance policies also have vermin exclusions for infestation, but it’s important to discuss the terms of an individual policy with your insurance agent.

However, further legislation in the bedbug arena  may be helpful in defraying some of the costs. The WSJ reports that another bill introduced in the New York Assembly would create a state tax credit for bedbug sufferers who have had to replace furniture, bedding and other items because of bedbug damage.

Moscow Heat Wave

My brother works in Moscow and has been complaining of the extreme heat and smog. Now I’ve read today’s BBC report I understand why.

Apparently the concentration of carbon monoxide in Moscow is still more than double acceptable safety norms as smog from peat and forest wildfires continues to blanket the city amid an ongoing heat wave.

Temperatures of more than 35C (95F) are forecast for the Russian capital until Thursday.

As reported by the BBC, Moscow’s health chief Andrei Seltsovsky today confirmed to reporters that the mortality rate has doubled as the heat wave and wildfire smog continue.

Mr Seltsovsky did not attribute the rise in the mortality rate to either the heat wave or smog, however.

Over at Wunderblog, Dr. Jeff Masters observes that the number of deaths in Moscow in July 2010 was about 5,000 more than in July 2009, suggesting that the heat wave has been responsible for thousands of deaths in Moscow alone.

Dr. Masters says:

I would expect that by the time the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 is over, the number of premature deaths caused by the heat wave will approach or exceed the 40,000 who died in the 2003 European Heat Wave.†

Cell Phone Brain Tumor Link: Inconclusive

An international study into the link between cell phone use and two types of brain cancer has proved inconclusive, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Results from the study are published this week in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The 10-year study found that most cell phone use did not increase the risk of developing either meningioma or glioma. However, there were suggestions that heavy use of cell phones (more than 30 minutes per day) could increase the risk of glioma, but “biases and errors limit the strength of the conclusions that can be drawn from these analyses and prevent a causal interpretation.†

Despite the inconclusive results, the authors suggested further research was necessary.  A press release quotes Dr. Christopher Wild, director of the IARC saying:

An increased risk of brain cancer is not established from the data from Interphone. However, observations at the highest level of cumulative call time and the changing patterns of mobile phone use since the period studied by Interphone, particularly in young people, mean that further investigation of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk is merited.†

The IARC notes that mobile phone use has become much more prevalent today and it is not unusual for young people to use mobile phones for an hour or more a day. But this increasing use is tempered by the lower emissions, on average, from newer technology phones, and the increasing use of texting and hands-free operations that keep the phone away from the head.

For more on this story, check out blog items at the Huffington Post and the Washington Post.

Healthcare Costs Compounded by Struggling Economy

Employers face an average increase of 10.5 percent in healthcare costs in the next 12 months, consistent with a year ago, but still in the double digits. A survey by Aon Consulting of more than 60 leading healthcare insurers, representing more than 100 million insured individuals, projects that healthcare costs will increase by 10.4 percent for HMOs, 10.4 percent for POS plans, 10.7 percent for PPOs and 10.5 percent for CDH plans. While these increases are slightly lower than one year ago, Aon says the sluggish economy is creating a worse situation for many employers and employees with lower wage increases, and in some cases, salary freezes. Wellness and health promotion initiatives are critical in the next phase of lowering the medical trend rate, according to Aon. For more on this story, check out an August 25 online article at Business Insurance by Joanne Wojcik. Check out additional I.I.I. facts and stats on health insurance.

Healthcare: U.S. vs. NHS

A question frequently asked of anyone who’s lived in the United Kingdom is how the healthcare system across the Pond compares to the one over here. Indeed the National Health Service (NHS) as it’s known in the United Kingdom has come under repeated attacks by critics of U.S. President Barack Obama’s health reform plans. So much so that this week U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown used Downing Street’s Twitter site to hit back at those critics who had dubbed the NHS “evil†. “NHS often makes the difference between pain and comfort, despair and hope, life and death. Thanks for always being there. #welovetheNHS,† Brown tweeted. As a result, #welovetheNHS has risen to the top of trending topics on Twitter. While the debate continues on healthcare reform the London Guardian’s Datablog yesterday answered the question of how the NHS compares to U.S. healthcare by posting a chart showing some key indicators on healthcare from countries in the G8 as well as Cuba and China, sourced from the World Health Organization (WHO). While it’s wise to remember that numbers tell a story but hardly ever the whole story, we note that among other things the chart indicates that U.S. per capita spending on healthcare is more than double that of the U.K. yet life expectancy in the U.S. is two years younger than across the Pond. Draw your own conclusions and check out I.I.I. facts and stats on health insurance.

H1N1 Headlines

Headlines abound on the impact of the H1N1 influenza virus, also known as swine flu. Over at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Science Blog, protecting healthcare workers is the topic of concern. It notes that healthcare workers and emergency responders will face increased risk of exposure to H1N1 given their role in caring for sick patients. Meanwhile, an August 11 Reuters article reports that with the onset of Asia’s monsoon season H1N1 is spreading in India, Thailand and Vietnam, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It quotes WHO figures that as of August 6 some 177,457 cases of H1N1 pandemic flu had been reported worldwide, including 1,462 deaths. However, the article states that WHO believes the true number of infections is much higher. Meanwhile, an  August 12 Reuters article  reports that the family of an assistant principal who was New York City’s first swine flu victim has filed court papers with the intention of suing the city and its health and education departments. Earlier this week, hundreds of Americans in eight U.S. cities lined up to participate in H1N1 vaccine trials. A 2006 I.I.I. study by chief economist Dr. Steven Weisbart found that a moderate influenza outbreak, similar to those of 1957 and 1968 could cost life insurers an estimated $31 billion. A severe pandemic, like the 1918 influenza outbreak, could cost insurers up to $133 billion.

H is for Health Care Reform

First week in August and with no hurricane in sight, it’s interesting to note that the insurance industry is still making the summer headlines but right now in the arena of health care reform. We have a couple of points to make. An article in the New York Times today tells us that Congressional Democrats and leading advocacy groups are laying the groundwork for “an August offensive against the insurance industry† as part of a campaign to sell the public on the need for health care reform. Tip: for every article and headline on health care reform, please read “health insurance† for “insurance.† It’s important to recognize that there are three key insurance sectors. Property/casualty (P/C) insurance consists mainly of auto, home and commercial insurance while life/health (L/H) consists mainly of life insurance and annuity products. The third sector, health insurance, is offered by private health insurance companies, as well as by some L/H and P/C insurers. Total health insurance from the three sectors totaled $493 billion in direct premiums written in 2007, including $331 billion from health insurers, $155 billion from L/H insurers and $7 billion from P/C insurers, according to the I.I.I. 2009 Insurance Fact Book. This brings us to the next point. The P/C insurance industry plays an important economic role in contributing to the health care industry. Claims filed under auto, workers compensation and liability insurance policies all have a health care cost component and the health care industry is a prime recipient of these claims. As a result the P/C insurance is one of many industry sectors that will be potentially affected by changes in the nation’s health care system. While it’s too soon to know what that impact will be, it’s clear that health care reform is an emerging issue with direct and indirect consequences for P/C insurers, among others. Check out I.I.I. facts and stats on health insurance.

Health Care Reform: Employer Survey

As House and Senate Committees continue to work on drafting legislation to reform the nation’s health care system, a survey released by Aon Consulting indicates that the majority of employers oppose having a single-payer national health insurance plan or a so-called “pay-or-play† plan that would require them to either offer coverage or pay an assessment. However, some 53 percent of employers said they support a nationwide individual mandate that would require all U.S. citizens to obtain at least a minimum level of coverage. Some 81 percent of respondents oppose having a national health plan similar to Canada’s. Some 63 percent also oppose a “pay-or-play† plan requiring the employer to sponsor group health insurance for their workers or pay money into a government fund to cover uninsured individuals. The majority of employers also believe a government-run public plan would create an uneven playing field over group health plans. Some 58 percent of respondents said they are opposed to a Medicare-style public plan to compete with private health insurance plans while 56 percent of respondents are opposed to a public plan that could eventually be offered to larger employers through a Health Insurance Exchange. More than 1,100 employers from a wide range of industries responded to the June survey. Check out I.I.I. facts and stats on health insurance.

Running on Automatic

As investigations continue into Monday’s collision of two Washington D.C. Metrorail trains that left nine dead and about 80 injured, at least part of the focus appears to be on the fact that the moving train was operating in automatic mode – meaning that it was primarily controlled by a computer. The age of the train and the electronic signal control system appear to be other areas of focus. While it is far too early to speculate on the exact cause of the crash and likely a variety of factors contributed to what is the worst crash in Metrorail’s history, the incident raises some interesting questions. There can be no doubt that the use of technology has led to a safer workplace. Workplace injury rates are now at their lowest level since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking information in the 1970s, according to the agency. But whether it’s a subway car, an aircraft, or a factory manufacturing line an over-reliance on automation may also be a liability. Our fellow bloggers over at Workers Comp Insider observe that the problem may lie in the concept of a system that cannot fail, because ultimately no mechanical system can be totally fail-safe. They also raise an interesting issue: if computers are operating trains, how much attention on the part of the driver is required? Check out I.I.I. information on workers compensation.