For years, politicians have blamed New York’s expensive, complicated Workers’ Compensation system for the flight of businesses and workers from our state, and their inability to attract new businesses and jobs. After more than a decade of complaining, our state is finally doing something to fix the problem. Just recently the New York State Assembly and Senate voted unanimously to approve a bill that, when signed by the governor, will result in sweeping changes to New York’s workers’ compensation system. Under current estimates, the bill will result in an immediate reduction in worker’s compensation premiums paid by employers of 10-15%.


Employers aren’t the only ones who will benefit from this bill, however. The maximum weekly benefit for injured employees will rise from $400.00 (unchanged in the last 15 years) to $500.00 in year 1, $550.00 in year 2, $600.00 in year 3, and to two-thirds of New York’s average weekly wage every year thereafter. That average weekly wage was last reported at $998.00 in 2005. The minimum weekly benefit would rise from $40.00 to $100.00. The bill also provides for more assistance to help injured workers get back to work, and speeds up court cases to get injured workers their benefits faster. The bill is also designed to prevent the current practice by insurance carriers of denying approval for routine medical procedures that often results in longer periods of disability for the injured employees.


These increased benefits do come at a cost. The length of time that a permanently injured worker can collect benefits for a partial disability will be capped at between four and 10 years, depending upon the seriousness of the disability. This means that a worker could be cut off from benefits even though they are unable to return to work because of their on the job injury.


The state hopes to recoup the cost of increased benefits by setting a fee schedule for doctors providing medical care to injured workers, by increasing the penalties and sanctions on businesses and employees who try to cheat the system, and by doubling the size of its antifraud unit to catch the cheaters.


Will these changes to the workers’ compensation system yield the promised results? Only time will allow us to answer that question. But whether these changes work or not, our legislature deserves a hand for finally attempting to fix New York’s failed Workers’ Compensation system.