Central to our mission as the regional chamber of commerce is our promise to listen to business and advocate for its needs. Time and again, our member companies have told us that they need a reliable, affordable workers’ compensation system that balances the interests of injured workers and employers.
Workers’ compensation reform has long been an important focus of our advocacy efforts and RBA played a significant role in pushing for a number of changes that were approved in 2007. But five years later, those changes have only been partially implemented. As a result, New York’s workers’ compensation insurance premiums have continued to rise, and are now among the highest in the nation.
So we recently released “Unfinished Business: Five Years of Workers’ Compensation Reform, Still a Work in Progress,” based on a report we commissioned from CGR, that was developed under the guidance of the RBA Workers’ Compensation Reform Committee.
Copies have been sent to state leaders, legislative leaders, members of the state’s Workers Compensation Board, and others. And in accompanying letters, we are calling for “urgent, focused attention to quickly and fully implementing the workers’ compensation reforms passed in 2007 and the recommendations outlined in (our) report.”
Those recommendations are:
- Require the Workers’ Compensation Board to track and publicly report on progress. The state should regularly report on such areas as claims processing and other measures of agency performance; classification of workers by disability level; number and disposition of requests for variances from Medical Treatment Guidelines; assessment levels; the status of the Second Injury Fund and its outstanding claims; and overall costs, including for self-insured employers.
- Appoint a Workers’ Comp Czar. Accelerate New York’s reform effort by engaging an expert with reform experience from other states to critically assess New York’s system, similar to Gov. Cuomo’s hiring of Jason Helgerson from Wisconsin as “Medicaid czar.”
- Reform the approach to indexing benefits. Eliminate the indexing of benefits to statewide average weekly wage, or adopt a regional approach. Higher downstate salaries unfairly drive up benefits for Upstate workers and costs for employers.
- Implement updated medical standards in calculating scheduled loss awards. This would bring scheduled loss payments in line with current medical practice by acknowledging how advances in medicine have improved healing and reduced permanent impairments. Reflecting the fact that many workers lose no or little time from work, the Board should return to a practice of using half the benefit rate in the calculation of benefits.
- Reduce New York’s highest-in-the-nation assessments. Through accelerating settlements of Second Injury Fund cases or reducing state administrative expenses, the state must find a way to bring premium taxes more in line with the national level.
- Make the caps on permanent partial disability cases work. The state can take several immediate steps to improve in this area. They include adopting a presumption that maximum medical improvement has been reached within 6 months to 2 years, and providing more training and guidance to practitioners and administrative law judges on how to implement the new system for classifying workers.
- Reject legislative rollbacks. Some legislators have proposed changing the compromise on which the reforms were based. Proposals such as exempting pre-2007 claimants from the Medical Treatment Guidelines or creating loopholes in the pharmaceutical fee schedule should be defeated.
Members of RBA’s Workers’ Compensation Committee have also asked to meet with state Workers’ Compensation Board leaders to discuss the study’s findings in more detail.
We’ve pledged to to continue to work aggressively for a resolution to this – and other matters -of critical importance to employers.