The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board will soon release updated permanent impairment guidelines as part of its 2017 workers’ comp reform plans, prompting a workers’ advocacy group to release a survey suggesting many workers believe their benefits are already inadequate.
According to the Board’s Chair, Kenneth Munnelly, new permanent impairment guidelines will be adopted by January 1, 2018, and “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.”
The Board did not comment further on the use of the generic term “advances in medicine”. According to Robert Grey, chairman of the Workers’ Compensation Alliance, the guidelines in place are based not only on the nature of the injury, but also based on the outcome of treatment – in terms of strength, mobility, etc. – so to him, they already take medical advances into account.
“For example, 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,” said Grey. “So, it is unclear exactly what ‘medical advances’ the Board is looking at or what input it has sought or received on the subject. There has been little or no transparency in the process, at least on the injured worker side of the equation.”
In response to the proposed reforms, The Workers’ Compensation Alliance, a coalition of injured workers and attorneys in New York, conducted a survey of 1500 injured workers (847 had a workers’ comp case involving a schedule loss award) this year, and found that 69 percent of injured workers believed that their schedule loss evaluation was too low under the present guidelines. In addition, 75 percent felt the award did not represent adequate compensation for their injury.
While the survey was offered online, and according to Grey, “accessible to anyone who wanted to complete it”, it is unknown how many responses came from member clients.
When asked how changes to the permanent impairment guidelines might affect attorneys’ fees, Grey stated that the coalition’s “political efforts are directed at preserving benefits and due process rights for injured workers; we have not and do not lobby on attorney fee issues.”
According to Grey, workers’ compensation premiums were recently cut 4.5 percent, resulting in half a billion dollars in savings for New York employers.
“The Board is also working to release a ‘formulary‘ for prescription medication that is expected to save another $100 million or more,” said Grey. “Given that picture, it is difficult to comprehend the argument that employer costs are skyrocketing and that worker benefits must be slashed, yet that is the justification that has been advanced for this project.”
The guidelines will be published on September 1, 2017, according to spokesman Brian Keegan, who said the Board looks forward to the public’s comments.
If the guidelines, as written, aren’t adopted by January 1, 2018, interim guidelines will be adopted per statutory requirement.
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