I have long championed measures to improve state government, create jobs and enhance the economic climate in Upstate New York. In the spirit of improving business conditions, I am pleased that my push for workers’ compensation reform was realized this year in an historic agreement to overhaul the system.
The changes agreed to by the Legislature and governor were based on a reform package I introduced as Chairman of the Assembly Minority Manufacturing Task Force. This reform package reflected the concerns and needs of employers and employees discussed during the task force’s statewide listening tour. As adopted, the legislation establishes comprehensive reforms to New York’s workers’ compensation law by increasing benefits for injured workers and lowering premiums for employers.
Last month, one of the first reforms went into effect, increasing the maximum weekly benefit rate for injured workers from $400 to $500 for claims beginning in July. The weekly benefit will increase incrementally over the next four years, bringing it to two-thirds of the state’s average weekly wage. Furthermore, the benefit for injured workers will be annually indexed, providing further increases to counter the effect of inflation and increased cost-of-living; thus, keeping benefits in tune with reality and provide meaningful help to injured workers.
As the phase-in of workers’ compensation reform gradually continues, employers will notice a drop in their annual premiums. Early estimates put the savings in annual premiums to be in the millions of dollars. Much of the cost savings to businesses comes from capping permanent partial disability benefits, while continuing medical care and establishing a safety net to assist injured workers returning to employment and intervening during cases of severe hardship. We also will see new stronger anti-fraud measures put into effect, and improved data collection practices on premiums and losses. Our hope is that adding transparency will bring additional cost savings and make for good common-sense government. Lastly, the workers’ compensation system will include new measures to expedite the compensation hearing process, thereby streamlining the course of treatment and return to work.