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New York passes budget with workers comp reforms

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Workers compensation reforms were included in the final version of New York’s fiscal 2017-2018 budget, which passed the New York State Senate Sunday following an agreement between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and leadership of the New York State Legislature.

The budget requires a workers comp formulary for prescription drugs, swift access to hearings for injured workers not receiving benefits and relief for first responders exposed to traumatic events on the job, according to a joint statement posted on the New York Division of the Budget website.

Specifically, the budget says the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board may not disallow a first responder’s claim for mental injury based on extraordinary work-related stress incurred at work if the stress is found to be not greater than that which usually occurs in the normal work environment.

“The new reforms ensure that the most significantly injured workers have the right to be considered for lifetime benefits,” the statement said. “Concurrent with expanded worker protections, businesses will be achieving overall savings, bringing much needed relief to municipal and private employers. Changes include establishing more definitive limits on caps and updating medical guidelines to reflect advances in modern medicine.”

Alison Cooper, vice president for the Washington-based American Insurance Association, applauded the budget, saying drug formularies are a proven way to reduce workers comp costs while ensuring workers receive the care they need.

“In particular, a formulary can help address the problem of opioid use and abuse, which unfortunately remains one of the most pressing issues facing workers’ compensation systems nationwide, including in New York,” Ms. Cooper said in a statement. 

The budget also calls for workers comp coverage for rideshare drivers through enhancements to the Black Car Fund, a nonprofit organization created by the state in 1999 that provides wage replacement and medical benefits for rideshare drivers injured on the job.

The Black Car Fund currently provides coverage for black car and luxury limousine drivers who work with the fund’s affiliated members and is funded through a 2.5% surcharge on passenger fares. For the purposes of workers comp, the fund functions as a driver’s employer under New York statutes, according to the fund’s website.

“This legislation not only expands the availability of (transportation network companies) outside of New York City, but also sets forth the appropriate automobile insurance coverage requirements to ensure that (rideshare) drivers, passengers and the public at large are adequately protected,” Ms. Cooper said.

New York's fiscal year began April 1.