Rochester Business Alliance has worked closely with Unshackle Upstate and other business organizations across New York for several years to help foster Workers’ Compensation reform that benefits both employers and injured workers.  A reform package enacted by the state legislature in 2007 took a first step in creating a more efficient system that functions better for everyone and lowers costs for employers.  However, the promised employer savings have been slow to materialize and New York now has the fifth highest Workers’ Compensation premium costs in the country.

In our annual surveys, Rochester Business Alliance members consistently rank Workers’ Compensation costs as their number three area of concern, behind health care costs and reducing unfunded mandates.

That’s why I was pleased to hear Governor Cuomo include a Workers’ Compensation reform package in his 2013-2014 Executive Budget.  The governor reinforced the plan to provide $900 million dollars in relief to New York employers during his visit to Rochester last week.  The governor’s plan, if enacted by the state legislature, promises to improve the Workers’ Compensation system by simplifying and reducing assessments on employers, promoting system-wide transparency, efficiency, and equity, and creating more competition in the insurance marketplace.

While Governor Cuomo’s Workers’ Comp package starts to get us back on track, there is still more work to do.

Mandate relief advocates like Rochester Business Alliance and Unshackle Upstate continue to encourage the state government to enact additional Workers’ Comp reforms, particularly in the areas of:

-          Reducing New York’s highest in the nation assessments: Closing the Reopened Case Fund to new claims is a good start, but the state must find additional ways to bring premium taxes more in line with national levels.

-          Scheduled loss of use awards: New York has seen quite a disconnect in Workers’ Compensation awards for specific injuries suffered on the job. Scheduled loss benefits compensate workers for specified permanent impairments, even if they don’t miss work and continue receiving full wages.  Payments have risen dramatically since 2007, but the medical guidelines on which they’re based haven’t changed since 1996.  This, despite advancements in medical treatment that speed recovery and result in better outcomes.

-          Training for doctors and judges: Those tasked with diagnosing and classifying injuries and determining appropriate compensation must be well-trained so cases are properly classified.  The bulk of anticipated savings from the 2007 reforms were to come from duration limits on permanent partial disability awards.  The problem is that many of these cases have yet to be classified under the new standards, so the more generous payouts continue.

-          Reject legislative rollbacks: We must remain mindful that some legislators have proposed rollbacks to the earlier Workers’ Comp reforms onto which Governor Cuomo’s further reforms dovetail.  Proposals such as exempting pre-2007 claimants from the Medical Treatment Guidelines or creating loopholes in the pharmaceutical fee schedule should be defeated.

Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State has seen much progress in policies that promote economic growth.  These include a property tax cap, on-time state budgets that hold the line on taxes, Medicaid reform, and economic development initiatives like the Regional Council model.  Workers’ compensation reform is of vital importance to employers, and Rochester Business Alliance and Unshackle Upstate will continue to push for necessary change.