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ALBANY, N.Y.-Employers that missed two previous deadlines to comply with New York's medical surcharge program have yet another chance to avoid stiff penalties.

Group health plans that elect to pay the surcharges directly to a state health care pool administrator are not liable for additional surcharges that can total more than 50% of the medical bill. The state set two previous deadlines-Dec. 2, 1996 and March 3-for plans to make the election.

Under a 1996 New York law, a basic 8.18% surcharge is added to hospital bills for health care plans that agree to directly pay the surcharge to a state health care pool administrator. Employers with employees living in New York are liable for an additional assessment based on where in New York their employees live.

Employers that failed to elect to pay the surcharges directly to the pool administrator by the earlier deadlines have been liable for surcharges of up to 57.27% of hospital and laboratory bills their employees incur in New York.

The next filing deadline is June 2 and would apply for bills incurred on or after July 1. The higher surcharges would apply on bills incurred before then.

About 27,000 employers, insurers and other health care plan payers have filed applications to directly pay the surcharges. About 23,000 of those applications have been validated, according to a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health.