As you may recall, the issue of Workers’ Compensation benefits for injured workers was used as a bargaining chip in Albany during this year’s budget negotiations. A compromise was reached that would update the current medical treatment guidelines to reduce costs to employers while still protecting the rights of injured workers. October 23, 2017, was the final day interested parties could comment regarding the proposed changes.
In order to reach this goal, the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board was directed to put together a task force with input from labor, the insurance industry, medical providers, and the Business Council to revise the impairment guidelines to reflect “advances in modern medicine that enhance healing and result in better outcomes.” On the Friday of a holiday weekend, in order to diminish media coverage of the results, the final draft was released. This was not a revision, but rather a full-scale re-write of the guidelines. Labor groups, injured workers’ advocates, and member s of the State Legislature were justifiably outraged.
One of the provisions would allow insurance company doctors to question injured workers without their lawyer present, which could negatively impact future legal proceedings. If an injured worker refused to answer a question, the insurance company doctor could deem the injured worker as “uncooperative,” which could result in a suspension of benefits. Even worse, the end results of these proposed guidelines would slash benefits in some cases up to 97%, and for others, there would be none.
As a result of the controversy, the New York State Assembly Labor Committee held a public hearing at which representatives of the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board testified first about the procedure used to formulate their revisions. They testified that they had a number of meetings with the Orthopedic Society, as well as discussions with the AFL-CIO and the insurance industry. A number of additional witnesses testified, including members of the task force, and it became abundantly clear that the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board started their own re-write to these guidelines more than two years prior to any direction to do so. It was also clear that the end result had little resemblance to the recommendations made by the AFL-CIO or the Orthopedic Society.
It is now more than 45 days since the proposed re-write was put out for public comment, and the list of those who are opposed is tremendous. On October 18, worker advocates showed up at a number of Workers’ Compensation Board locations across the state for Days of Action including at Hauppauge, Brooklyn, and Buffalo. More than 100,000 postcards objecting to the proposed changes were delivered. Members of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, the AFL-CIO, NYCOSH, New York City District Council of Carpenters, DC37, and countless more have all publicly railed against these changes. Members of the Legislature have called out the Workers’ Compensation Board for overstepping their authority and for proposing changes that would vastly favor the Business Council over the injured worker.
While the comment period is finished, you can still voice your outrage by contacting your State Senator and Assembly member and telling them that injured workers don’t deserve to lose any more benefits. Sometimes after an injury, Workers’ Compensation is what prevents a worker from losing everything.
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.
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