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Mountain View Contractor Gouged NASA for Comp Costs

Fiore Industries provides qualified management, personnel, and equipment to operate and maintain effective, self-sufficient Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting and airport operational support services. These services are compliant with Federal Aviation Regulations Part 139, OSHA, NFPA, and IFSTA.

The company agreed to pay the United States $1,200,000 to resolve allegations that it caused false claims to be submitted to the government for payment.

Fiore is a subcontractor that provide fire protection services at NASA’s Ames field center in Mountain View, Calif. According to the settlement agreement made public today, the settlement resolves the government’s claims that in 2016 Fiore overcharged the government by seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional payments from NASA based on inflated workers’ compensation rates. The government claimed that the rates Fiore submitted to justify the additional payments did not account for discounts Fiore knew it would receive but did not disclose to NASA.

“Federal contractors and subcontractors must deal squarely and honestly with the government at all times,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson. “By signing this agreement, Fiore agrees to account for various deductions to which the government is entitled and also agrees to cooperate with any further investigation into other parties that may be responsible for overcharging. This agreement protects taxpayers by holding government contractors accountable for their claims practices.”

The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharanya Mohan handled the matter for the government, with assistance from Kurt Kosek. The settlement is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California and the NASA Office of Inspector General, with significant assistance from other components of NASA.

August 17, 2020 – News Podcast

Rene Thomas Folse, JD, Ph.D. is the host for this edition which reports on the following news stories: Uber and Lyft Ordered to Classify Drivers as Employees. Daly City Restaurant Resolves Wage Theft Claim for $2.6M. Construction Worker Faces Fraud Charges for False Statement. Man Arrested for Selling Fake COVID Medication. Each New Drug Costs $2.6B and Takes 15 Years! WCIRB Suggests 2.6% Rate Increase for 2021. WCAB Expands Hearing Options with LifeSize Video. Conference Call Public Hearing Set for MTUS Update. Surgical Specialties Fees Reduced in 2021 Medicare Fee Schedule. Safeway Store Janitors Protest Limited COVID-19 Safety Gear.

Uber and Lyft Avoid Shutdown With Last Minute Stay

Ride-hailing will continue in California for the time being as Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. won more time Thursday in their appeal of a ruling that ordered them to immediately classify their ride-hailing drivers as employees in compliance with state law.

The companies have five days to agree to expedited procedures outlined by a state appeals court judge Thursday, which includes consolidating both appeals and requiring the companies to submit sworn statements by Sept. 4 from their chief executives that the companies have developed plans to obey an Aug. 10 order to classify their drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.

Should Lyft or Uber fail to comply with these procedures, the People may apply to this court to vacate this stay,” wrote Stuart Pollak, presiding judge of the First District Court of Appeal in California. He set an Oct. 13 date for oral arguments in the case.

Uber and Lyft confirmed they will not be shutting down their ride-hailing services, as they had planned to do if they failed to secure an emergency stay.

“While we won’t have to suspend operations tonight, we do need to continue fighting for independence plus benefits for drivers,” said Julie Wood, spokeswoman for Lyft.

Uber spokesman Davis White said, “We are glad that the Court of Appeals recognized the important questions raised in this case, and that access to these critical services won’t be cut off while we continue to advocate for drivers’ ability to work with the freedom they want.”

In May, California’s attorney general and the city attorneys of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego sued Uber and Lyft, accusing them of failing to obey California law by continuing to consider their drivers as independent contractors, and asked the court for an injunction to force the companies to classify them as employees. A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled Aug. 10 that the ride-hailing giants must immediately comply but gave them a 10-day stay for their appeals. That expired Thursday.

The two companies are counting on California voters to approve Proposition 22, an initiative they and other gig companies have poured $110 million into to exempt gig workers from the law, Assembly Bill 5, which became effective Jan. 1.

With Prop. 22, the companies are proposing a “third way” that they say gives additional pay and benefits to drivers and preserves their flexibility to choose when they work. But the initiative falls short of classifying drivers as employees with all the benefits that entails, including being eligible for unemployment insurance.

OC Comp Attorney Arrested for Investment Fraud Scheme

Lawyer Scott Hughes, 44, of Newport Beach, California, has been accused of helping launder at least $20 million in an alleged cryptocurrency Ponzi scheme. He is a personal injury and criminal attorney, and reportedly represented applicants in workers’ compensation matters in Orange and Los Angeles Counties.

The indictment unsealed Tuesday claims that Hughes and four other defendants promised guaranteed returns for phantom investments in cryptocurrencies through a company called the AirBit Club. Hughes is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Acting United States Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “As alleged, the defendants put a modern-day spin on an age-old investment scam, promising extraordinary rates of guaranteed return on phantom investments in cryptocurrencies. Thanks to HSI, the defendants are in custody and facing serious criminal charges.”

Prosecutors say “those arrested today have not only been charged with running a multimillion-dollar cryptocurrency investment fraud and money laundering ring, but also for allegedly spending their victim’s money on luxury cars, jewelry, and homes. These alleged fraudsters pulled out all the stops to sell their scheme to their victims with enticing recruitment events, then shamelessly used proceeds of their scheme to recruit additional victims through even more aggressive and lavish marketing pitches.

According to the allegations in the Superseding Indictment the defendants participated in a coordinated scheme in which victim-investors were induced to invest in AirBit Club based on the promise of guaranteed profits in exchange for cash investments in club “memberships.”

They marketed AirBit Club as a multilevel marketing club in the cryptocurrency industry, and falsely promised Victims that AirBit Club earned returns on cryptocurrency mining and trading and that victims would earn passive, guaranteed daily returns on any membership purchased.

Attorney Hughes, who is licensed to practice law in California, had previously represented two of the co-defendants in a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation related to another investment scheme known as Vizinova before aiding the two in perpetrating the AirBit Club Scheme by, among other things, helping to remove negative information about AirBit Club and Vizinova from the internet.

In many instances, as early as 2016, Victims who attempted to withdraw money from the AirBit Club Online Portal and complained to a Promoter were met with excuses, delays, and hidden fees amounting to more than 50% of the Victim’s requested withdrawal, if they were able to make any withdrawal at all.

31,612 California COVID Comp Claims – So Far!

The number of California workers’ compensation claims for COVID-19 continues to climb, as data from the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) show that as of August 10, there were 9,515 claims reported for the month of July, bringing the total for the year to 31,612 claims, or 10.2% of all California job injury claims reported for accident year (AY) 2020.

Those claims include 140 death claims, up from 66 reported as of July 6.

Updated figures for May and June show sharp increases in COVID-19 claims for each of those months, as the number of COVID-19 claims with June injury dates more than doubled from 4,438 claims as of July 6 to 10,528 claims as of August 10, while COVID-19 claims with May injury dates rose from 3,889 cases to 4,606 claims (+18.4%), indicating a time lag in the filing, reporting, and recording of many COVID-19 claims.

Using claim development factors the California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) projects there could ultimately be 29,354 COVID-19 claims with July injury dates and 56,082 COVID-19 claims with January through July injury dates.

Health care workers continue to account for the largest share of California’s COVID-19 claims, filing 38.7% of the claims recorded for the first 7 months of this year, followed by public safety/government workers who accounted for 15.8%. Rounding out the top 5 industries based on COVID-19 claim volume were retail trade (7.9%), manufacturing (7.0%), and transportation (4.7%).

The updated data is included in the latest iteration of CWCI’s COVID-19 and Non-COVID-19 Interactive Claim Application, an online data tool that integrates data from CWCI, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and the DWC to provide detailed information on California workers’ comp claims from comparable periods of 2019 and 2020.

The new version features data on 710,224 claims from the first 7 months of AY 2019 and AY 2020, including all 31,612 COVID-19 claims from AY 2020. The application allows users to explore and analyze:

CWCI will continue to update the application and expand its features and functions as more data on claim type and average and systemwide costs become available..

National Law Review Highlights COVID Litigation Risk

The National Law Review spotlight is on a category of COVID-19 related workplace complaints that undoubtedly has caused many sleepless nights for employers around the country: deaths caused by COVID-19 infections allegedly connected to the workplace.

This week’s update to the tracker includes two such cases – one relates to the alleged wrongful death of an employee from COVID-19, and the other concerns the death of an employee’s spouse.

In each case, the plaintiffs allege a lack of effective institutional response to the virus, as well as a failure to warn employees who may have come in contact with the COVID-19 virus in the workplace. The allegations in these cases demonstrate the importance of employers implementing a plan of action to mitigate the dangers to the workforce.

First, in Iniguez v. Aurora Packing Company, Inc., the plaintiff, administrator of a deceased woman’s estate, filed a wrongful death and survival action against the defendant, a meat-packing facility. The defendant employed the decedent’s husband as a butcher. The plaintiff alleges that in late April 2020, the decedent’s husband contracted COVID-19 while at work, and infected his wife, who died from the virus on May 2.

According to the plaintiff, the defendant knew employees had contracted COVID-19 at its facility, yet did nothing to mitigate the spread of the virus in the facility. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant was negligent by, among other things, failing to warn employees of a COVID-19 outbreak and failing to implement an infectious disease preparedness and response plan or infection prevention measures consistent with CDC and state department of health guidelines.

The plaintiff also asserts that the defendant actively created risk, including by “choosing not to”: provide employees with PPE, implement engineering controls to prevent the virus from spreading, take reasonable measures to allow for social distancing, screen and monitor workers, implement and communicate leave policy, and provide handwashing breaks, hot water, and sanitizer.

In Montgomery v. Prevarian Senior Living, LP, the plaintiffs, the surviving family members of a deceased assisted living facility worker, allege wrongful death and gross negligence under Texas law. The plaintiffs allege that both the deceased and their daughter, one of the plaintiffs, worked for the assisted living and memory care facility, and both were exposed to COVID-19 when assigned by their employer to sit for hours at a time, unprotected, with a resident whom the employer knew (but did not tell its employees) had tested positive for the virus.

The plaintiffs allege that assisted living facilities have often been described as “epicenters” for COVID-19, and that the deceased in particular was at higher risk of experiencing severe COVID-19 complications, including death, due to being overweight and a minority. The plaintiffs allege that the employer owed the deceased a duty to provide a safe workplace.

As the pandemic continues, the unfortunate reality is that we expect to see more illness among employee populations, and more litigation alleging that an employer’s alleged unpreparedness and lack of transparency relative to COVID-19 resulted in the spread of the virus among an employee population, and caused sickness or even death.

As ever, mindful employers would do well to understand and follow the public health guidance coming out at the local, state, and federal levels.

Mostly Positive News for California COVID-19 Developments

California received a batch of mostly positive pandemic-related developments on Monday with data showing that the number of people dying of COVID-19 is beginning to decline and hospitalization rates continue to fall steadily.

Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced that San Diego County, the state’s second largest, has made enough progress against the novel coronavirus that it could be removed from the watch list as early as this week.

In one of the key pandemic metrics, the seven-day daily rolling average of fatalities fell to fewer than 130 deaths per day on Sunday for the first time since last month, according to a Times analysis of state data. The number of hospital patients with COVID-19 has declined steadily for a month, the data show.

Community spread appears to be falling, too: The share of Californians who tested positive over a two-week period dipped to 6.5% Monday, an early indication that California is “stabilizing, and moving broadly in the right direction,” Newsom said.

The promising data come two weeks after Newsom touted a falling infection rate, then backtracked after officials found errors in how the data had been reported. On Monday, for the first time since the data breakdown, the state updated its watchlist of areas with high case rates, offering a mixed picture around the state.

Although Santa Cruz was taken off the list, four small counties – Amador, Mendocino, Inyo and Calaveras – were added and must close businesses by Thursday.

The infection rate in San Diego has stayed beneath 100 cases per 100,000 residents for nearly a week. “It’s extraordinarily good news, speaking on behalf not just of the county but the state of California,” Newsom said.

Los Angeles County continues to make progress toward getting off the watchlist, with the average daily number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths falling steadily, said Barbara Ferrer, the head of the Department of Public Health.

The county meets five of the six metrics used to measure progress against the pandemic, including testing more than 150 people per 100,000 residents per day, and maintaining a healthy margin of available intensive-care beds and ventilators.

The county continues to make progress on reducing community transmission to meet the most stubborn benchmark: a 14-day average of fewer than 100 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents for three consecutive days.

Last week, the county reported 335 cases per 100,000 residents; on Sunday, the rate was 298 cases per 100,000.

Daily hospitalizations in Los Angeles County have fallen 37% over a month, from 2,219 cases per day in mid-July, to 1,388 cases in mid-August, Ferrer said. The average number of daily deaths has fallen from 43 to 30 over the same time period, she said.

The hospitalization rate data is “one of our best indicators that our efforts over the last few weeks are actually working,” Ferrer said, in part because it was not affected by the data reporting errors.

3.8 Billion Views of Misleading Health Info on Facebook

Misleading health content has racked up an estimated 3.8 billion views on Facebook over the past year, peaking during the COVID-19 pandemic, advocacy group Avaaz said in a new report here on Wednesday.

The report found that content from 10 “superspreader” sites sharing health misinformation had almost four times as many Facebook views in April 2020 as equivalent content from the sites of 10 leading health institutions, such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The social media giant, which has been under pressure to curb misinformation on its platform, has made amplifying credible health information a key element of its response. It also started removing misinformation about the novel coronavirus outbreak that it said could cause imminent harm.

Facebook’s algorithm is a major threat to public health. Mark Zuckerberg promised to provide reliable information during the pandemic, but his algorithm is sabotaging those efforts by driving many of Facebook’s 2.7 billion users to health misinformation-spreading networks,” said Fadi Quran, campaign director at Avaaz.

We share Avaaz’s goal of limiting misinformation, but their findings don’t reflect the steps we’ve taken to keep it from spreading on our services” said a Facebook company spokeswoman.

“Thanks to our global network of fact-checkers, from April to June, we applied warning labels to 98 million pieces of COVID-19 misinformation and removed 7 million pieces of content that could lead to imminent harm. We’ve directed over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities and when someone tries to share a link about COVID-19, we show them a pop-up to connect them with credible health information,” she said.

Avaaz’s report also said that warning labels from fact-checkers were applied inconsistently even when misinformation had been found to be false.

The report tracked how content from a sample of misinformation-sharing websites was shared on Facebook by interpreting available Facebook data between May 2019 and May 2020.

Trump Signs Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act of 2020

Last Friday, President Donald Trump signed an expansion of the federal Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program to include disability or death from COVID-19 among the criteria for payments.

The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOB) provides a death benefit to the eligible survivors of Federal, state or local public safety officers whose death was the direct and proximate result of a personal (traumatic) injury sustained in the line of duty (certain fatal, line of duty heart attacks and strokes are also covered).

The act also provides a disability benefit to eligible public safety officers who have been permanently and totally disabled as the direct result of a catastrophic personal injury sustained in the line of duty. The injury must permanently prevent the officer from performing any gainful work.

The amount of the PSOB benefit is $359,316.00 for eligible deaths and disabilities occurring on or after October 1, 2018. The amount of the PSOB educational assistance benefit for one month of full-time attendance on or after October 1, 2018 is $1,224.00.

The Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act of 2020 is similar to the HEROES Act, which secured benefits for the families of those who gave their lives during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The new Act extends the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program by creating a presumption that if a first responder is diagnosed with the coronavirus within 45 days of their last day on the job, the Department of Justice will treat it as a line of duty incident and provide the payments.

The Act provides that “..unless competent medical evidence establishes that the death of a public safety officer (as defined in section 1204 of title I of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (34 U.S.C. 10284)) was directly and proximately caused by something other than COVID-19, COVID-19 (or complications therefrom) suffered by the public safety officer shall be presumed to constitute a personal injury within the meaning of section 1201(a) of title I of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (34 U.S.C. 10281(a)), sustained in the line of duty by the officer..

Before, the illness had to be officially linked to a job-related source. That burden of proof required painstaking contact tracing efforts.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who introduced the measure in the U.S. Senate, said the law was needed to keep the survivors of first responders who die from COVID-19 from having to prove their loved one contracted it on the job.

Teva Pharmaceuticals Kickback Case Settled for $3.5M

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has reached a $3.5 million settlement with specialty pharmacy Advanced Care Scripts, Inc, to resolve allegations that ACS conspired with pharmaceutical manufacturer Teva Neuroscience, Inc. to enable Teva to pay kickbacks to Medicare patients taking Copaxone, a Teva drug approved for treatment of multiple sclerosis.

When a Medicare beneficiary obtains a prescription drug covered by Medicare Part B or Part D, the beneficiary may be required to make a partial payment, which may take the form of a co-payment, co-insurance, or deductible. These co-pay obligations may be substantial for expensive medications.

Congress included co-pay requirements in these programs to encourage market forces to serve as a check on health care costs, including the prices that pharmaceutical manufacturers can demand for their drugs.

The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits pharmaceutical companies from offering or paying, directly or indirectly, any remuneration – which includes money or any other thing of value – to induce Medicare patients to purchase the companies’ drugs.

Advanced Care Scripts served as a contracted vendor for Teva and provided, among other things, benefits investigation services to certain patients who had been prescribed Copaxone. As part of the settlement, the company acknowledged certain facts.

Advanced Care Scripts knowingly enabled a large pharmaceutical manufacturer to pay kickbacks to Medicare patients taking its expensive drug. Prosecutors say that such conduct undermined the Medicare program’s co-pay structure, which Congress created as a safeguard against inflated drug prices.

Advanced Care Scripts (ACS) willingly served as a pawn in a kickback scheme, putting profit over patient needs, by helping Teva to time its foundation payments to boost sales of Teva’s own drug, which ACS then dispensed,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division.