By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — The business organization Citizen Voices hosted a forum Wednesday on the status of workers’ compensation law reform, and the law’s effect on businesses and workers.
The forum featured a panel consisting of state Sen. Jim Seward (R-Milford), Assemblyman Cliff Crouch (R-Guilford), Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R-Schoharie) and Unshackle Upstate executive director Brian Sampson. Assemblyman Bill Magee (D-Nelson) was scheduled to attend, but was unable to because of other commitments that could not be changed. The panel was moderated by Citizen Voices volunteer Rob Robinson.
Attendees were able to, and did, ask questions of the panelists.
The major focuses of the panel were the increase in the cost of workers’ compensation insurance this year and the pace of the implementation of the 2007 Workers’ Compensation Reform Act.
The 2007 reform, among other measures, put limits on permanent partial-disability benefits, raised the maximum weekly disability payment and called for new medical-treatment guidelines. The new guidelines, however, have not yet been fully adopted, which panelists said has delayed the bill’s cost-saving potential.
“We still have not seen the full benefit of the changes of 2007,” Seward said.
Speaking about the high cost of workers’ compensation insurance in New York, Sampson gave the Goodyear plant in Buffalo as an example.
“The Buffalo plant loses out on bids for one sole reason: Workers’ comp,” he said.
Crouch, meanwhile, gave an example of a business that moved to his district from Pennsylvania, and saw their workers’ compensation premiums increase by five times.
Sampson gave three proposals for reducing workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
“There’s three things that they should do that if they did it, you’d see premiums probably plummet.”
These proposals were to update the scheduled loss of use (SLU) tables the state uses, have the state use the American Medical Association’s medical guidelines and adopt the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s (ACOEM) treatment guidelines.
An SLU award is given for the partial or total loss of the use of a body part. The SLU tables haven’t been updated since 1999, and Sampson asserted that they did not reflect current medical advances.
The state currently uses its own medical and treatment guidelines.
Sampson said that adopting these measures would create a consistency and predictability for workers’ compensation claims that would drive down premiums.
“The solutions are there,” he said.
Said Crouch, when addressing the concern that reforming the system would negatively impact labor, “It’s not taking benefits away, it’s making sure that benefits are appropriately paid. There’s higher benefits paid in other states at lower costs to employers.”
As for why non-employers should care about workers’ compensation costs, the panelists said that higher premiums prevented businesses from hiring more people and expanding.
It was also highlighted that taxpayers paid for the workers’ compensation insurance for public employees.
Said Sampson, “As a taxpayer you pay workers’ comp for the school, for the municipality, for the state.”
Lopez said the forum went well, and seemed optimistic about the potential for reform.
“Our goal, and this is really the focus today, is to make a discrete list,” he said, “and get everyone on the same page saying the same thing, so that those changes can be put in place right away.”