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State lawmakers weigh changes to Workers' Comp guidelines

State lawmakers are considering altering workers' compensation guidelines adopted last year that injured workers complain have resulted in reduced or denied medical treatment.

The debate centers on medical treatment guidelines for injured workers that the Workers' Compensation Board adopted on Dec. 1, 2010.

Advocates for injured workers claim those guidelines should not apply retroactively to workers whose cases predate last Dec. 1, sometimes by years. They say the guidelines are interfering with care and causing confusion among health care providers.

But supporters of the guidelines say there ought to be a uniform standard of medical care for all cases in the system. And they say the guidelines help medical professionals identify whether the care patients receive is of good quality and is actually helping them restore function.

Legislation proposed in the State Senate and Assembly would tweak the guidelines so that they apply only to cases from Dec. 1, 2010 onward. State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, sponsored the Senate legislation. The Assembly version, sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright, D-Harlem, passed the Assembly on Monday.

Groups such as the New York Workers' Compensation Alliance have opposed the medical treatment guidelines. "Carriers have denied treatment and medication in numerous cases, which has resulted in a flood of variance requests," said Robert Grey, the Alliance's chairman, in a letter to the Workers' Compensation board's chairman.

The Alliance argues that the guidelines are illegal, contending they violate sections of the workers' compensation law.

Maziarz's office received complaints from some constituents who had been receiving chiropractic care for workers' compensation-related issues, but were impacted by the changes implemented last December, said Adam Tabelski, a spokesman for Maziarz.

The Business Council of New York State is among the opponents of the legislation. The group argues the Workers' Compensation board's guidelines should apply to every case, and that their adoption was a significant part of workers' compensation reform in 2007.

"The legislation seeks to set two different standards of care for injured workers," said Margaret Moree, director of federal affairs for the Business Council.

Moree said the guidelines do not preclude a medical professional from seeking to extend treatment for a patient if that treatment is showing progress. And she said costs are not the only issue.

"This was as much about ensuring people were getting quality care consistent with medical evidence," she said.

The fate of the legislation was uncertain on Tuesday, as the State Legislature's session was winding down. While the bill passed the Assembly, it was unclear if it would reach the Senate floor for a vote.


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