Over the past few months, you may have noticed a precipitous drop in the number of posts to the New York Disability Lawyer Blog. However, as Co-Chair of the New York Workers’ Compensation Alliance, I’ve been doing the Albany shuffle along with some of my dedicated colleagues in an attempt to protect injured workers from any disastrous workers’ comp reform. Well – were in the ninth inning now given Governor Spitzer’s press conference today announcing a workers’ compensation reform agreement between all the major players at the bargaining table. It’s been a long but hopefully worthwhile fight.
Give New York Governor Eliot Spitzer credit – he played his cards in the workers’ compensation reform deal brilliantly and in the process has undone one of the pillars of the original law that was on the books for nearly 100 years – the permanent partial disability pension. That’s not to say that this pillar was not crumbling of it’s own weight and didn’t need some reforming. After all, it had been around since the assassination of Prince Archduke Francis Ferdinand! But like a historic neighborhood that is indelibly disturbed by the need for a three lane highway, it was rather sad to watch, especially for those of us who are a bit nostalgic when it comes to labor history. The price of progress!
So, who are the winners and losers in the new reform deal? Aside from the obvious political winners -Governor Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Bruno- who all seemed to be playing nicely in the rose garden, the winners are as follows:
- Injured workers earning over $600 per week, who will now see an immediate potential benefit increase;
- Injured workers who will have greater access to real job retraining and rehabilitation;
- Injured workers whose authorization for appropriate medical care will be sped up;
- Injured workers whose claims will be resolved quicker due to the implementation of the new "Rocket Docket" proposed by the Workers’ Compensation Alliance;
- Employers who should see a 10-15% decrease in workers’ comp premiums;
- Honest employers who will no longer subsidize cheating employers due to new criminal employer fraud penalties;
- Doctors who often waited months for authorization for much needed surgeries for their patients.
Now, as in any hard fought compromise,the inevitable losers:
- Injured workers with permanent partial disabilities who cannot be rehabilitated for other work (i.e. the 58 year old carpenter with no high school degree, among others);
- Injured workers earning less than $600 per week;
- Dishonest employers who will now face felony criminal charges;
- The New York Compensation Rating Board, which will be abolished;
- The "Second Injury Fund", which will be phased out of existence;
- Any others that we discover once the actual written bill details are released.
Teddy Roosevelt – excuse me…Eliot Spitzer! – chocks up one more win on the scorched earth reform path.