Tag Archives: Governor Cuomo

Saving Our Benefits – How Public Outcry Saved Workers’ Compensation in New York

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Some of you may recall that injured workers and their families were used as political scapegoats by big business and insurance interests who blamed them for the high cost of doing business in New York.  Workers’ Compensation benefits became an easy target as those who needed these benefits were hardly in a position to fight against the deep pockets and political clout of these lobbying groups.  

As a result of political pressure during New York State budget negotiations, there was a direction to update the existing impairment guidelines under the guise of reducing costs to employers while still protecting injured workers. The final budget contained a provision directing the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) to put together a task force with input from labor, the insurance industry, medical providers, and the NYS Business Council to revise impairment guidelines to reflect “advances in modern medicine that enhance hearings and result in better outcomes”.  These impairment guidelines determine the amount of compensation payable to an injured worker for a permanent injury.

Unfortunately for injured workers, the WCB unilaterally revamped and rewrote the guidelines and released them during a holiday weekend with a 45-day public comment period. These proposed guidelines bore very little resemblance to the recommendations made by labor groups and the Orthopedic Society, and were an outrageous abuse of power. As a result of a very public outcry, the New York State Assembly Labor Committee held a public hearing during which it became very clear to labor groups, injured workers’ advocates, and members of the State Legislature that the Board’s egregious actions would result in a slashing of benefits to injured workers at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Public outcry led to action. Workers’ advocates showed up at a number of WCB locations across the state, including Hauppauge, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, for Days of Action. More than 100,000 postcards objecting to the proposed changes were delivered. Members of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the AFL-CIO, NYCOSH, New York City District Council of Carpenters, DC37, and countless others all publicly railed against these changes. Members of the Legislature called out the WCB for overstepping its authority and for proposing changes that would vastly favor the Business Council over the injured worker. 

The Worker’s Comp Board subsequently issued amended revisions, and while there are still some reductions, it was a significant improvement over the initial version. The final version was released last year on December 29. It is clear that grassroots efforts sometimes do work. Governor Cuomo and the WCB Chair clearly listened, and for that we are grateful. We are also grateful to those State legislators, union groups, and medical providers who submitted their insight on the impact the original proposals would have on injured workers.

Lastly, it is clear that those who may have been past or current recipients of Workers’ Compensation benefits – those who have known injured workers or those who just saw an injustice and wanted to help right a wrong – took the time to make a phone call, send a letter, or sign a petition. The outpouring of support took many by surprise, including those interests that were financed by big business groups.   One of my favorite quotes is from Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Truer words were never spoken.

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.

Dirty Tricks Lead To Reduced Benefits In Cuomo’s New Budget

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Governor Cuomo signed a new budget this week. While many extolled his progressive agenda that included free college tuition for the middle class, renewing the millionaire’s tax, and giving a tax break on dues for union members, he also quietly and without much fanfare in the news media, struck a huge blow to injured workers. 

Unfortunately for those members of our society who no longer are able to work as a result of an injury, or sustained a life altering injury while on the job, their benefits became part of a horse-trade in Albany much to their detriment. Governor Cuomo, anxious to get his big publicity items in the budget in case he seeks higher office, seems to have used Workers’ Compensation as a bargaining chip. 

The Business Council circulated fake facts blaming injured workers’ benefits for the high cost of doing business in the state, when in reality employer costs nationwide for Workers’ Compensation are at their lowest levels in 35 years.  Locally, Workers’ Compensation costs in New York have declined dramatically as well; compensation is only a small portion of employer costs and is extremely profitable for insurers. The Business Council seems to have a number of members with strong ties to the insurance industry, which makes their position even further suspect.

In 2007, the Council was successful in lobbying to obtain caps on indemnity benefits and has now continued its assault so that the prior limit on weekly benefits will be further reduced. When caps were first put into place, they did not go into effect until judges determined that injured workers had reached maximum medical improvement and that their conditions could be classified as permanent. This new provision automatically starts the cap after 2½ years, regardless of a person’s abilities or condition, or whether or not he will ever be able to work again or find work that meets medical restrictions. It is up to the injured worker to show that he has not reached maximum medical treatment that the carrier can refute.  

The Business Council has continued its attack by alleging that permanent loss-of-use awards were unfair to the employer. They argue that the prior guidelines were outdated and did not take into consideration new advances in medicine. Again, fake facts! The guidelines are based on range of motion and loss of function after all modalities are exhausted, including new advances in medicine available. As a result, the new law directs the Board to “consult” with a group stacked with pro business and insurance interests, but no representatives of injured workers to “review” the current guidelines with the ultimate goal of reducing benefits. The fact that workers who have permanent life-altering injuries to their arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers, and toes have absolutely no say is extremely distressing.

When does this eroding away of Workers’ Compensation benefits end? Two years ago, ProPublica published a series of articles entitled “The Demolition of Workers’ Comp”.  They documented the cutbacks made in many states with disastrous consequences. Their report noted that since 2003, 33 states passed Workers’ Compensation laws that reduce benefits or make it more difficult to obtain benefits. New York is part of that list, having enacted laws not once, but twice, since then.

Many believe that reducing benefits to injured workers will force them back to work. Studies have shown that this is another myth perpetuated by the falsehood that injured workers are frauds. What happens in reality is that many injured workers are unable to work and are forced into poverty or have to collect alternate benefits. Social Security Disability benefits, which are paid by the American taxpayers, are generally offset by Workers’ Compensation benefits. Without Workers’ Compensation payable by the insurance carrier, the burden on the taxpayer is larger. Rather than the Workers’ Compensation insurance carrier paying for medical treatment, it is put through Medicare. This is known as cost shifting and it affects all of us, as we are the ones who end up paying – and paying dearly.

 

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.