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HHS Secretary gently weaves in tort reform as part of healthcare reform

(NEWS) The tort litigation process of this land is close to potentially being overhauled. And you may not have even noticed.

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Happenings on The Hill

Seven far-reaching bills, supported by the Republicans and vehemently opposed by consumer groups, are now making its way through Congress.

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Colloquially known as “tort reform,” with Mr. Trump in the White House, the prospects of enacting business-friendly litigation looks promising.

But we are short on details.

Tort reform

In his joint address to Congress, President Trump specifically mentioned his support for measures to “implement legal reforms that protect patients and doctors from unnecessary costs that drive up the price of insurance.”

This was a direct reference to the Protecting Access to Care Act (H.R. 1215), which caps medical malpractice awards, non-economic damages at $250,000.

In theory, the supports of reform argue that by making liability laws less complex, and cutting out frivolous lawsuits, medical costs shall come down.

Gears in motion

Last month, the Senate confirmed Rep. Thomas Price (R-GA) to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

A staunch opponent of Obamacare, Mr. Price, a former orthopedic surgeon, is expected to implement the President’s reform plan.

In a March 2nd speech accompanying Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary Price called tort reform “defensive medicine” which went wholly unnoticed.

Rockin’ the boat

Critics immediately pointed out two contractions. First, they contend, that there is simply no evidence that liability restrictions lower insurance costs.

Secondly, President Trump’s support for tort reform directly puts him at odds with many conservatives who object to Congress interfering with tort laws, a traditional domain of individual states.

What are implications beyond healthcare?

Anything for the agenda

Does medical liability reform imply a broader civil justice reform agenda?

Will the President approve tort reform bills when they reach his desk?

Joanne Doroshow at the Center for Justice & Democracy in New York, advised against that interpretation.(https://bol.bna.com/trump-seen-as-supportive-of-business-backed-litigation-bills/). Medical malpractice, she said, has “nothing to do with the other bills that exonerate misconduct by large industries, about which he said nothing.”

He gets a bill, she gets a bill, EVERYONE GETS A BILL

A quick glance at the bills, five of them currently in the House, certainly establish their diversity, and non-medical nature.

The bills propose changes that include: provisions to rewrite class-action practice; support defendants resisting cases in plaintiff-friendly state courts; punish attorneys filing bogus claims; seek limits on settlements by the EPA and DOJ; and impose stringent disclosure requirements on asbestos victims claiming compensation.

The President has been entirely silent on these six bills in Congress right now.

Other than President Trump’s medical liability reform comments, and one oblique reference to asbestos, there has been no other speeches, interviews or comments to gauge the President’s views.

Gettin turnt up for tort

Supporters of tort reform, however, seem to be charged up. They are undeterred by President Trump’s specific mention of “medical” litigation reform.

Sherman Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association, told Bloomberg, “we’ll eagerly make the case to the White House and fence-sitters in Congress that, just as meritless litigation makes health care less affordable and accessible, it also undermines economic growth and job creation — two of President Trump’s top priorities.”

However, nothing is certain.

All six bills differ in scope and while they are expected to pass the House, uncertainty in the Senate remains high, where democrats are expected to filibuster some (if not all) of the bills.

Why has President Trump been silent?

A possible explanation is this: because civil litigation puts his administration at odds with its own policy stance.

Corporate America has always been bent on limiting class actions and push arbitration over jury trials.

PresidentTrump is from the business world, and being a subject of many civil lawsuits himself, is perhaps in line with big business’s agenda.

But such a position directly betrays the rights of grassroots America, his biggest supporters. Curtailing ‘trial by jury’ or the right to take a corporation to court will prove unpopular.

Moreover, business-backed litigation would limit the power of states to go after big businesses—another conflict of policy for President Trump, who is a big supporter of strong state powers, as reiterated in the Congress speech.

Huge repercussions

As President Trump likes to often say, this is going to be huge.

What is at stake is the American citizen’s right to take business entities to court (the 7th Amendment) or, alternatively, the freedom from frivolous litigation, depending on where you stand on the issue. Click To TweetMuch remains to be resolved in the coming months. For now, all eyes should be on the House floor.

#Tort

Barnil is a Staff Writer at The American Genius. With a Master's Degree in International Relations, Barnil is a Research Assistant at UT, Austin. When he hikes, he falls. When he swims, he sinks. When he drives, others honk. But when he writes, people read.

Business News

Coca Cola drops 200 brands, most you’ve never heard of

(BUSINESS NEWS) Coca Cola hopes to revitalize their drink arsenal by rolling back some “underperforming” brands (that you might not have known they were still making.)

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Woman drinking Coca Cola against plain wall

2020 has forced a lot of businesses to return to their proverbial drawing boards, and the Coca Cola Company is no exception. Last week, Coca Cola announced in a corporate blog post that they are halting the production of 200 of their beverage brands.

In the words of Cath Coetzer, the head of global marketing for Coca Cola, the restructuring will “accelerate [Coke’s] transformation into a total beverage company”.

“We’re prioritizing bets that have scale potential across beverage categories, consumer need states and drinking occasions,” Coetzer added. “Because scale is the algorithm that truly drives growth.”

That’s… a surprising amount of technical beverage jargon, Cath.

Coca Cola is already the leading manufacturer of non-alcoholic drinks on the planet. It’s hard to imagine their scope becoming any more “total.” But this strategy shift comes as the consumer thirst for soda is drying up.

Soda consumption has steadily fallen over the last ten consecutive years, thanks to a swath of modern studies that link excess sugar intake with negative health outcomes like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

In light of this research, regional sales taxes on drinks with added sugar have been debated across the country, despite aggressive corporate lobbying against it. All this has meant that beverage companies have had no choice but to pivot hard.

Take Odwalla, a Coca Cola brand that touted its vitamin content and servings of produce, which was discontinued earlier this year. Despite being marketed as a health brand, Odwalla flavors contained whopping amounts of added sugar: Their popular “superfood” flavor quietly boasted 47 grams per bottle.

The brands affected by Coke’s recent soda cull also include TAB diet soda, ZICO coconut water, and Coca Cola Life, plus internationally marketed drink brands like Vegibeta of Japan and Kuat of Brazil.

Condensing their portfolio allows Coca Cola to prioritize their most profitable products and invest in more new beverage trendsetters that better fit the times, like sparkling water, coffee, or even cannabis-infused products.

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Business News

Uber and Lyft face the music as employee ruling is upheld

(BUSINESS NEWS) The battle for Uber and Lyft drivers’ status continues, and despite company protests, the official ruling has been upheld.

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Interior of Uber and Lyft rideshare looking out on palm trees

A gig economy has its pros and cons. For anyone who has ever been an independent contractor, done freelance work, or worked for companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, the pros are clear – you get to work when you want, where you want and how much you want. Flexibility and gigs go hand in hand.

And the cons? Well, those are a little more complex. Without a W2 linking you directly to the company, you as an independent contractor don’t receive the same rights and perks that your 9-5 employee friends might. For example, your employer is not required to provide a healthcare option for you. You are also not entitled to earned time off or minimum wage.

So which is better?

The gig economy conundrum has made its way all the way to an appellate court in California last week. The ruling was that Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees.

Back in May, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and city attorneys from L.A., San Diego and San Francisco brought forth a lawsuit that argues Uber and Lyft gain an unfair, unlawful competitive advantage by not classifying their workers as W2s.

Uber and Lyft responded to the suit, stating that if they were to reclassify their drivers as employees, their companies would be irreparably harmed – though the judge in last week’s ruling negated that claim, stating that neither company would suffer any “grave or irreparable harm by being prohibited from violating the law” and also that the financial burden of converting workers to employees “do[es] not rise to the level of irreparable harm.” Essentially, the judge called their BS.

Additionally, according to the judge, there is nothing that would prevent Uber and Lyft from offering flexibility and independence to their drivers – and they have had plenty of time to transition their drivers from independent contractors to employees (the gig worker bill that spurred this lawsuit was decided in 2018). Seems fair to me!

However, there is an oppositional proposition on the ballot that muddies the waters. Proposition 22, if passed, is a measure that would keep rideshare drivers and delivery workers classified as independent contractors, meaning that those workers from Uber and Lyft would be exempt from the new state law that classifies them as W-2 employees. And you might be surprised to know how many of the app-based rideshare workers are in favor of Prop 22!

In a class-action lawsuit, Uber has been accused of encouraging drivers and delivery workers to support Prop 22 via the company’s driver-scheduling app. It appears, unfortunately, that Uber is manipulating its workforce by wrongly hanging their jobs over their heads.

On this matter, Gig Workers Rising stated: “If Uber and Lyft are successful in passing Prop. 22 and undo the will of the people, they will inspire countless other corporations to adapt their business models and misclassify workers in order to further enrich the wealthy few at the expense of their workforce.”

Ultimately, the fate of California Uber and Lyft driver’s in still in question. It’s unclear if the question we should be asking is, will Lyft drivers have proper healthcare through their jobs or will they have jobs at all. All of this is occurring at a time where millions are jobless and 158,000 individuals sought unemployment support this week due to COVID-19 layoffs.

Personally, I have little sympathy for tech-giants that rake in billions off the backs of the exploited working-class. If the CEO of Uber is an ostentatious billionaire, then his employees should have health insurance. Clear and simple.

The scariest part of the gig economy is that workers have become increasingly happy to work for a company that gives them little to no benefits. More companies are dissolving or combining positions so that they can further bypass their responsibilities to their employees. Let us not be fooled: The dispute over whether or not to make Uber and Lyft workers W2 employees does not affect the health of the companies themselves. What it will affect is how fat the bonuses will be the big guys at the top, and that’s exactly why the companies are so adverse to the ruling. They’d rather their workers suffer than lose a single dime.

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Business News

Bay Area co-living startup strands hundreds of renters at dire time

(BUSINESS NEWS) They’re blaming COVID for failing as a co-living space, but it looks like trouble was well established even before now.

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Person packed a bag and walking away from co-living space.

Over the last few years, “co-living” startups have become increasingly common in tech-rich cities like San Francisco. These companies lease large houses, then rent individual bedrooms for as much as $2,000 per month in hopes of attracting the young professionals who make up the tech industry. Many offer food, cleaning services, group activities, and hotel-quality accommodations to do so.

But the true value in co-living companies lies in their role as a third party: Smoothing over relations, providing hassle free income to homeowners and improved accountability to tenants… in theory, anyway. The reality has proved the opposite can just as easily be true.

In a September company email, Bay Area co-living startup HubHaus released a statement that claimed they were “unable to pay October rent” on their leased properties. Hubhaus also claimed to have “no funds available to pay any amounts that may be owed landlords, tenants, trade creditors, or contractors.”

This left hundreds of SF Bay Area renters scrambling to arrange shelter with little notice, with the start of a second major COVID-19 outbreak on the horizon.

HubHaus exhibited plenty of red flags leading up to this revelation. Employees complained of insufficient or late payment. The company stopped paying utilities during the spring, and they quietly discontinued cleaning services while tenants continued to pay for them.

Businesses like HubHaus charge prices that could rent a private home in most of the rest of the country, in exchange for a room in a house of 10 or more people. PodShare is a similar example: Another Bay Area-based co-living startup, whose offerings include “$1,200 bunk beds” in a shared, hostel-like environment.

As a former Bay Area resident, it’s hard not to be angry about these stories. But they have been the unfortunate reality since long before the pandemic. Many urbanites across the country cannot afford to opt out of a shared living situation, and these business models only exacerbate the race to the bottom of city living standards.

HubHaus capitalized on this situation and took advantage of their tenants, who were simply looking for an affordable place to live in a market where that’s increasingly hard to find.

They’ve tried to place the blame for their failure on COVID-19 — but all signs seem to indicate that they had it coming.

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