It is now almost two years since former Governor Eliot Spitzer hastily pushed through his sweeping workers’ compensation reforms, including the capping of permanent partial disabilities, to the detriment of all New York workers. As part of the reform package, Spitzer gave the New York State Insurance Department (still under the leadership of Superintendent Eric Dinallo) until December 1, 2007 (over one year ago) to deliver guidelines in final draft form for consideration by the Workers’ Compensation Board. So where are injured workers now regarding these guidelines?
It has been estimated that to date, the State Insurance Department has spent close to $1,000,000 of taxpayer money on staff salaries,consultants and other costs attempting to develop the medical guidelines needed to evaluate permanent disabilities. Originally, the NY State Insurance Department secretly tried bringing the discredited AMA Guidelines to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment to New York, at a consultant's cost of $175,000.
Thankfully, the NY Workers’ Compensation Alliance (with the help of the eminent workers’ compensation expert, Professor John Burton, who called the AMA Guides “hokum”) squashed any possibility of AMA Guides implementation in New York. Since the AMA Guides "fiasco" and their rejection in New York, it seems that Superintendent Dinallo and the Insurance Department have lost their “mojo” to create new medical guidelines for permanent disabilities.
The Medical Guidelines Task Force, headed by Bruce Topman, seems to be working at “glacial speed”. There are even rumblings from different corners of the New York Workers’ Compensation Board about the lack of progress and its impact on the agency. Remember, until the medical permanency guidelines are in place, neither the caps on permanent partial disabilities nor the injured worker “safety net” can take effect.
As of March 13, 2009, it will have been two years since the Spitzer workers' compensation reform bill became law. All injured workers with permanent disabilities from accidents after March 13, 2007 would normally be classified at the two year mark, since it is generally assumed they would have reached maximum medical improvement at that point in time. Failure to have medical permanency guidelines in place by March 13, 2009 will seriously hurt injured workers, leaving them in compensation “limbo”. Surely, the NY Workers' Compensation Board itself cannot now, at this late date, implement its own workable guidelines, given that it has not been allocated either the time or money to effectively accomplish such a huge undertaking.
The Medical Guidelines Task Force must now act with all deliberate speed to insure that fair medical guidelines, including the “safety net” and linking impairments to vocational factors for benefit determination, are in place no later than Presidents Day 2009. In these dire economic times, the lack of the “safety net” contained in the reform law - impossible to implement without the guidelines - will cause workers throughout the state further impoverishment and seek the assistance of welfare relief.
Enough dragging of bureaucratic feet to the detriment of injured workers! Insurance Department Superintendent Eric Dinallo (or Governor Patterson) should order the Medical Guidelines Task Force to meet day and night to finish the job that should have been completed over one year ago. Failure to do so would be a colossal waste of taxpayer money, while neglecting the needs of injured workers.
The New York Workers' Compensation Alliance stands ready to assist in the creation and implementation of a just and appropriate set of medical guidelines - one that will effectively guide the medical community without further detracting from the needs and interests of injured workers.