NY workers’ comp reform plan may reduce benefits to workers

The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board has just released a new proposal on how permanent impairments will be evaluated. According to the board’s chair, the proposal “will incorporate advances in medicine that result in better healing and outcomes for injured workers to use in evaluations and determinations for schedule loss of use awards.”

Unfortunately, it’s not clear how advances in medicine will be accounted for in schedule loss of use awards, which are payments for permanent impairments.

As the chairman of the Workers’ Compensation Alliance pointed out,¬†advances in medicine are already taken into account¬†because they improve outcomes for injured workers. “For example,” he said, “if the modern approach to a surgery leaves the patient with greater mobility and strength than the way it was done 20 years ago, then they would correspondingly get a lower ‘schedule loss’ rating today than they did then.”

Citing a lack of transparency in the board’s process, the Workers’ Compensation Alliance released the results of a survey indicating that many workers feel their schedule loss benefits are already too low. The Workers’ Compensation Alliance is a coalition of workers’ comp attorneys and injured workers in New York.

Some 1,500 injured workers, a little over half of whom had a schedule loss award, responded to the online survey. 69 percent said their schedule loss evaluation was already too low under the current guidelines. 75 percent felt their overall award was inadequate to compensate them for their injury.

One weakness of the survey was that it’s not clear how many respondents were members of the Workers’ Compensation Alliance. That said, the organization does not lobby for attorney fees but only to preserve due process rights and benefits for workers, according to its chairman.

The chairman of the Workers’ Compensation Alliance also pointed out that New York workers’ comp premiums have been cut by 4.5 percent recently. This resulted in about a half billion dollars in savings for employers. This may indicate successful lobbying efforts by employers, as may another change. The Workers’ Compensation Board is currently working on releasing a new formulary for what prescription medications will be covered under workers’ compensation in New York. That is expected to save employers another $100 million or more.

“Given that picture, it is difficult to comprehend the argument that employer costs are skyrocketing and that worker benefits must be slashed,” said the chairman of the Workers’ Compensation Alliance.

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