July 1, 2020
Board’s Response to COVID-19 Crisis and Other Key Initiatives Build On More Than a Century of Advancements For Workers and Business
Today, the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board (Board) marks 106 years of progress. Since its founding in 1914 in the wake of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire – the worst industrial tragedy in New York’s history – the Board has been protecting the rights of employees and employers by ensuring the proper delivery of benefits and promoting compliance with the law. The Board, which oversees workers’ compensation, volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers benefit laws, disability benefits and Paid Family Leave, is proud to continue fulfilling its mission, without interruption, even amid the current pandemic.
“Over the past century, the Board has responded to many challenges, from the opioid crisis to the tragedy of 9/11, and through it all we have remained dedicated to ensuring workers receive the benefits and care they are due,” said Chair Clarissa M. Rodriguez. “New York was a national beacon when it passed the Workers’ Compensation Law to provide a means for workers who were injured or made ill on the job to receive wage replacement benefits and medical treatment. The Board’s important work has continued throughout the decades, and we remain dedicated to making the system better for workers and better for business.”
The Board responded quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic, releasing timely guidance and emergency regulations to keep the workers’ compensation system running smoothly. This included requiring all hearings – approximately 1,000 a day – to be held remotely through the Board’s state-of-the-art virtual hearings system; allowing telemedicine and telephonic visits in certain circumstances; and suspending some requirements (such as original signatures) to keep claims moving while keeping the public safe. Because of these actions, there has been no lag in the processing of claims and benefits are being delivered to injured workers on time.
In the past year, the Board has delivered real results for injured workers, business owners, health care providers, and other stakeholders by successfully implementing key legislative reforms and instituting processes that expand access to improved care.
Expanded Coverage Under Disability Benefits & Paid Family Leave
Disability benefits and Paid Family Leave have been expanded not once, but twice this year. Beginning January 1, more workers became covered for disability benefits and Paid Family Leave after Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act into law. The law requires farm employers, owners and operators to provide the benefits to all eligible farm workers. The Board created a comprehensive online toolkit to assist employers in implementing the new law.
Governor Cuomo also expanded the use of both benefits to help workers affected by COVID-19. The emergency legislation the Governor signed provides Paid Family Leave and/or disability benefits for workers who work for small and medium-sized employers if they or their minor, dependent child are under a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine.
Improved Access to Care
In addition to expanding benefits to more workers, the first day of 2020 also marked improved access to care, when the Expanded Provider Law took effect bringing more providers into the workers’ compensation system. This law allows the Board to authorize more types of health care providers, including acupuncturists, nurse practitioners and licensed clinical social workers, to treat workers’ compensation patients. Additional types of providers in the system means injured workers have more options and better access to the care they need.
The Board has also taken other steps in the past year to improve the quality of care for workers and bring more providers into the system. This included rolling out new medical fee schedules with higher reimbursement levels for participating providers; simplifying forms to decrease administrative burden; and implementing the New York Workers’ Compensation Drug Formulary (Formulary), which includes a list of preferred medications that can be prescribed without any prior approval and new online processes for requesting medication not on the Formulary.
Reduced Workers’ Compensation System Costs
The Board is also working to improve the system for businesses. In the past year, workers’ compensation system costs for employers continued to drop. The assessment rate employers pay to operate the system was greatly reduced since the Business Relief Act of 2013, declining 35%. In 2013, the rate stood at 18.8%; for 2020, it is 12.2%.
Besides the assessment rate cut, insurance rates have also been declining over the past three years. In 2019, employers saw a 10% decrease in rates. The three-year downward trend has been made possible by growth in wages as well as efforts by the Board to create smarter, more efficient processes that cut administrative costs and a more progressive use of technology.
As it has done for the past 106 years, the Board continues its path of progress. Work is well underway to build a new and vastly improved claims system. The new system will replace the Board’s multiple legacy, paper-based claims systems, with a single, web-based platform. It will provide improved and expanded access to real-time claim data, new electronic self-service features for interacting with the Board, and reduce the amount of paper forms to improve system responsiveness to stakeholder needs.