MURPHY SIGNS LAW TO END SURPRISE MEDICAL BILLS

Governor Phil Murphy today signed into law landmark legislation that will help keep health care affordable for New Jersey residents by protecting them from surprise medical bills for out-of-network health care.

At least with state-regulated health insurance  plans covered by the plan, consumers will no longer have to pay any more than they would for in-network care unless they are informed of those added costs in advance and consent to pay them.  And added out-of-network charges could never be imposed for receiving needed medical care in an emergency situation. Consumers would remain free to obtain care from out-of-network providers but those bills would no longer come as a surprise.

Other insurance plans that fall under federal law and are thus not subject to regulation by the state, will be able to opt into the law, which takes effect 90 days from today.

The legislation, A-2039, is known as the Out-of-Network Consumer Protection, Transparency, Cost Containment and Accountability Act, and the name aptly describes what it does.

For more detail, read my earlier blog posts.  HERE and HERE.

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BILL WOULD END SECRET SEX HARASS SETTLEMENTS, PRESERVE RIGHT TO SUE FOR DISCRIMINATION

Last month, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law legislation meant to make sure that how much you are paid at work does not depend on your gender, race, age, religion or any other personal characteristic covered by NJ’s broad anti-discrimination law.

Another important bill also intended to protect equality in the workplace, is now moving through the Legislature and was voted out of the Senate Labor Committee on March 5 and the Assembly Labor Committee on May 10.

The legislation, S-121/A-1242, would prevent companies from requiring that workers or job applicants agree up front to relinquish their right to sue for discrimination or harassment or any other substantive or procedural right related to a claim for discrimination in order to keep their jobs or get hired in the first place. It would apply also to retaliation claims—where an employer fired or took some other adverse action against someone for complaining of discriminatory conduct.

In addition, the bill would outlaw the secret settlement of discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims, also referred to as “non-disclosure agreements, the sort repeatedly used by movie producer Harvey Weinstein when he paid off his accusers, allowing him to keep sexually assaulting and harassing women for decades.

Continue reading BILL WOULD END SECRET SEX HARASS SETTLEMENTS, PRESERVE RIGHT TO SUE FOR DISCRIMINATION

MAJOR STEP FORWARD IN EFFORT TO END SURPRISE MEDICAL BILLS

A bill that will protect consumers from surprise medical bills took a crucial step toward passage on April 5 when it won narrow approval from the Senate Commerce Committee, by a 3-2 vote.

That same day, S-485/A-2039, also known as the Out-of-Network Consumer Protection, Transparency, Cost Containment and Accountability Act, also made it past the Senate Budget Committee (7-3) and the Assembly Appropriations Committee (7-2).

The Senate Commerce vote was regarded as the most uncertain of the three because earlier versions of the bill had stalled in that committee in the prior two legislative sessions.

The bill had already been reported out of the Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee on March 5, so it is now cleared for votes in both houses.

It is posted for an Assembly floor vote this coming Thursday, April 12, and it is hoped that when the list of bills is posted for the full Senate session that same day, it will also be listed there.

The legislation, most centrally, holds consumers harmless from having to pay more than the in-network rate when they receive services from an out-of-network health provider in an emergency situation or through inadvertence. For non-emergency care, consumers need not pay higher out-of-network rates unless they are informed in advance of the provider’s out-of-network status and what that provider will charge and they agree to those services and charges.

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LANDMARK EQUAL PAY BILL AWAITS SIGNATURE

The State of New Jersey is poised to enact a law that will provide the strongest equal pay protections in the U.S., on either the state or federal level.

The legislation, S-104, goes further than the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Act, a federal law, which overturned federal court precedent limiting the time in which women could sue over discriminatory pay practices and how much they could recover if they won.

Among other protections that exceed those in the federal, law, the NJ legislation allows recovery of up to six years of back pay, provides for treble damages and prohibits employers from requiring existing workers or new hires to waive their legal rights as a condition of employment. It specifically bars any waiver of the two-year time limit for filing suit. (A 2014 state appellate court decision, Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture, had found such a waiver, one that shortened the time to sue to only six months, was enforceable but the state Supreme Court reversed in 2016.)

The proposed law applies not just to female employees but to any class of employees shielded by the broad scope of NJ’s Law Against Discrimination, or LAD. The LAD’s 17 protected categories include race, color, national origin, disability, age, affectional/sexual orientation, military status and genetic information.

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TIME TO PROTECT CONSUMERS FROM SURPRISE MEDICAL BILLS

For almost 10 years now, New Jersey lawmakers have been grappling with the issue of what to do about surprise medical bills.

They are the invoices sent by doctors and other health care providers who are not part of your insurance company’s network. So when your insurance does not cover the full amount of what they charge for their services, they come after you to pay the difference. Hence the term “balance billing.”

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CHRISTIE TARGETS ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCATE COMMISSION SEAT

Governor Chris Christie might be a very lame duck at this point, with only a little more than a month to go, but as he heads toward the door, he has taken a parting shot at Edward  Lloyd, the environmental lawyer who is one of the longest serving members of the Pinelands Commission.

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SENATE COMMITTEE DELAYS VOTE ON BANNING DANGEROUS PESTICIDE IN NJ

Earlier this year the Trump administration jettisoned environmental rules that would have halted the use of a pesticide that has been shown to damage children’s brains. Pending state legislation that would at least do so in New Jersey hit a road block last week.

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NEW HOPE FOR anti-SLAPP BILL

The New Jersey Assembly has overwhelmingly passed a bill that would protect people who speak out on public issues from baseless lawsuits meant to intimidate them into silence.

The legislation, A-603, targets SLAPP suits, the shorthand for what are known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.

SLAPP suits, which often occur in the context of opposition to real estate development projects, pitting people from the community against a wealthy corporation, are meant to deter opposition because of the high cost of defending them, even if they are eventually thrown out for lack merit or withdrawn once the developer or other SLAPP plaintiff has succeeded in quelling critics.

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CHIPPING AWAY AT OPRA

A bill moving through the New Jersey Legislature threatens to undermine the Open Public Records Act, known as OPRA.

OPRA’s defining characteristic and its great strength are its presumption of public access to all government records and the information they contain, except for 24 expressly exempted categories, and the ability to recover legal fees when access is wrongfully denied. The exemptions encompass such areas as personnel records; advisory, consultative or deliberative material; criminal investigation and victims’ records; trade secrets; security measures and procedures whose disclosure would jeopardize safety; and records subject to attorney -client privilege. A specific “Personal Identifying Information” exemption already exists for four kinds of crucial identifiers: Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, drivers’ license numbers and unlisted phone numbers.

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NJ JUSTICES TO DECIDE MAJOR OPEN RECORDS CASE

What is probably the most significant case in years affecting public access to government records and information was argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court on Feb. 28.

Unless the lower court decision Paff v. Galloway is reversed, members of the public will have diminished access under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to the vast quantities of information stored electronically in government computers.

The case is viewed as so critical to the public right of access to electronic data that it has drawn the participation of an international data rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), whose mission is defending civil liberties in the digital realm.

john-paff
John Paff, image via NJSPJ

At issue is an OPRA request for all emails sent during a two week period in June 2013 by the Township Clerk and Chief of Police of Galloway Township in Atlantic County. The requestor, John Paff, a longtime advocate for government transparency, did not seek the emails in their entirety but only a log or list of the sender, recipient, date, and subject for each of them.

Continue reading NJ JUSTICES TO DECIDE MAJOR OPEN RECORDS CASE