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Proposed changes to NY's PPD guidelines may harm worker interests

As part of a 2017 reform plan, the New York State Workers' Compensation Board is slated to release new guidelines for how to compensate workers for permanent impairments. Unfortunately, the workers' advocacy group the Workers' Compensation Alliance is concerned that they may harm workers' interests. The group has just released a survey that indicates many injured workers already feel their benefits are inadequate.

The issue surrounds an announcement by the state board's chair, who said the new guidelines "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."

However, the board has not commented on what it means to incorporate advances in medicine, and that's a concern. Suppose a medical advance brought about better mobility for patients with back injuries. That better outcome would naturally result in a lower impairment rating and thus a lower claim. Is the board saying that the patient's claim should be reduced further simply because it involved an advance in medicine?

That seems unlikely, but the Workers' Compensation Alliance is concerned because there has been little transparency on the question. "It is unclear exactly what 'medical advances' the Board is looking at or what input it has sought or received on the subject," said the group's head.

The Workers' Compensation Alliance is a coalition of workers' comp lawyers and injured workers in New York. The group surveyed 1,500 injured workers, 847 of whom were involved in a workers' comp case with a schedule loss award. Fully 69 percent of those surveyed said their schedule loss evaluation was unduly low under the current guidelines, and 75 percent felt their award wasn't adequate to the injury.

The survey was done online and was available to all comers, but it's unclear how many respondents were members of the organization or clients of members.

The head of the Workers' Compensation Alliance also pointed out that a recent premium cut saved New York employers half a billion dollars. Moreover, the state board is also working on a new prescription medication formulary, which is expected to save another $100 million for employers. Therefore, any attempt to reduce awards for permanent impairments shouldn't be based on a perception that employers' costs are skyrocketing.

The new guidelines are expected to be adopted by Jan. 1, 2018.

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