On January 13, 2016, the Governor's office released the 2016 Executive Budget for New York State. The Budget included a number of proposals that would make significant changes to the workers' compensation system.
The WCA has reviewed the Executive Budget and is deeply concerned about the aspects of it that impact due process and benefits for injured workers. In particular, the WCA believes that the following proposals would adversely affect injured workers:
1. The elimination of the Aggregate Trust Fund. The 2007 reform legislation slashed benefits for permanently partially disabled workers, but preserved their ability to obtain fair settlements of their now-limited benefits by requiring insurers to make deposits into the Aggregate Trust Fund. The Budget proposal to eliminate the ATF deposit requirement would still further diminish benefits for these workers, and also undermine benefits for widows, dependent children, and those who are permanently totally disabled.
2. The elimination of the right to hearings before a single judge. The Budget proposes to allow the Workers' Compensation Board to re-assign any case at any time to any judge in the state. This could result in judges in distant parts of the state deciding claims of workers they have never seen, based on the opinions of medical witnesses with whom they are totally unfamiliar. This proposal raises serious concerns about due process for both injured workers and employers.
3. The elimination of appeals heard by an appeals panel. The Budget proposes to allow appeals from decisions of Workers' Compensation Law Judges to be heard by a single lawyer employed by the Board, or by a single Commissioner. This proposal would deprive injured workers and employers of their right to a meaningful appeal, and again raises serious concerns about due process.
There are many other provisions of the Budget that would result in major changes to the workers' compensation system and the rights of those who participate in it. The full WCA White Paper can be found here.