March 14, 2007
Governor directs agency heads to advance workers' compensation reforms
Declaring that New York needs workers' compensation reforms beyond those found in the law he signed on March 13, Governor Eliot Spitzer has asked the heads of three state regulatory agencies to lead efforts to make additional changes to reduce costs and make the system more effective for both employers and injured workers.
A March 13 letter was addressed to Eric Dinallo, the acting superintendent of the state Insurance Department; Patricia Smith, the commissioner of the Department of Labor; and Donna Ferrara, the chair of the Workers' Compensation Board.
The Governor called upon DiNallo to design a data collection system to help provide policy-makers with more reliable information about compensation costs and cases.
“Tasks that should have been simple in this reform effort, such as calculating what the cost would be if the Legislature were to increase benefits, have taken significant time and effort because basic information was not readily available in a useful format.”
The superintendent of insurance should gather data “on a regular and ongoing basis necessary to make appropriate policy judgments and determine whether to approve rates,” the Governor wrote.
“There is universal agreement that the workers' compensation system is permeated with unwarranted costs,” the Governor wrote. “I am confident that reliable data will allow us to squeeze those costs out of the system over time, to the advantage of both workers and employers.”
The first report on the data collection effort is due on April 27 of this year, the Governor's letter noted.
The agencies should work together to design a streamlined docket, expediting claims and resolving cases more quickly, the Governor said.
“The workers' compensation system was designed nearly a century ago to achieve a speedy resolution of claims outside the normal court system,” he wrote. “Participants now describe it as a system where delays and adjournments are pervasive and where cases drag on interminably.”
The Governor said a streamlined system should cut the delays in gathering necessary documents and witnesses. Two representatives of The Business Council will participate on an advisory committee to work on the development of the streamlined system.
The first report on the streamlined docket is due to the Governor by April 27. Revised regulations are due by June 1.
The Governor also asked the superintendent to develop objective medical guidelines that would minimize the need for “factual conflicts” and “battles of experts” before the Workers' Compensation Board.
The guidelines should also set standards for practices among health-care professionals; and provide protocols and training for Workers' Compensation Board law judges and other employees, the Governor wrote. The Governor will appoint an advisory committee to assist the superintendent, which will include two representatives of The Business Council.
The plan for developing the guidelines is due by April 27, with guidelines to be delivered in final draft form no later than December 1, the Governor's letter said.
COMPENSATION INSURANCE RATING BOARD
The recently signed Legislation charges the superintendent of Insurance to write a report on the Compensation Insurance Rating Board (CIRB), the letter noted.
The document should include a report on “the manner in which CIRB has performed the tasks delegated to it by statute or regulation and whether those tasks would be more appropriately performed by any other entity.” The report will also review the rate-making process for workers' compensation insurance.
“The signing of today's legislation demonstrates how much we can accomplish through hard work and a commitment to sensible results,” the Governor wrote. “But as much a victory as this legislation is, it still marks only the beginning of the path to true reform. Indeed, true reform us a dedication to excellence in governing every single day, and it is in that spirit that I now charge the three of you with carrying out the continued mission.”