New York Times Article on Workers' Comp System DisappointsTuesday, March 31, 2009
Today’s New York Times article on the NY Workers’ Compensation system is a major disappointment given that the paper spent 18 months preparing what is essentially an extended "human interest" story. The article is filled with anecdotal reports of claimant suffering and unsubstantiated editorials masquerading as fact. However, it is woefully short on actual statistics regarding the actual efficiency of the system, and gives only cursory reporting on the systemic ongoing reform efforts that will eventually correct some of the perceived inefficiencies.
Reading the article, one would incorrectly assume that all 140,000 workers injured statewide every year must navigate the "subbasement of the legal world", as the authors unfortunately characterize the New York Workers’ Compensation Board. Nothing could be further from the truth! The vast majority of injured workers receive both appropriate medical care and any lost wage replacement before ever having to step foot into a hearing office.
Hearing offices today are left to resolve only the thorniest cases involving legal disputes over proper wage loss payments and medical care. Had the authors cared to check, they would have discovered that actual hearings statewide have decreased dramatically in the past few years. A comparison of the number of workers compensation claims processed through the Queens District office in 2008 to the number of these same claimants who had hearings in the Queens hearing office would have been instructive. However, this information is nowhere found in this article which places a priority on "sensationalism" rather than concrete facts.
One of my colleagues from the insurance defense side states in the article: "Comparing Supreme Court, say, to this is like comparing a hospital to a MASH unit". He is absolutely correct! MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals) units have been a great success throughout history and statistics show that over 97% of injured service men and women who made it to MASH facilities survived their injuries. And yes, doctors like "Hawkeye Pierce" cracked a few "bawdy" jokes while saving thousands of lives. I’ll take Hawkeye Pierce and a MASH unit (the New York Workers’ Compensation Board ) any day over a faceless hospital ( the Supreme Court) where your "cure "can kill you as you wait five years to get in front of a jury to address your injuries. By comparison, the NY Workers’ Compensation Board is enormously efficient compared to New York State Supreme Court.
The Workers’ Compensation Board is much like an Emergency Room where "triage" is used to treat the sickest patients first. You can improve waiting times in emergency rooms by adding more doctors. You can improve waiting times at Workers’ Compensation Board hearing points by adding more judges.
Certainly, as in any large bureaucracy, there is always room for improvement. However, even in the current imperfect system, there are injured workers whose medical and economic lives are saved each and every day in that "subbasement" known as the New York Workers’ Compensation Board. Nowhere in the Times article is there a quote from an injured worker who was "grateful" or "pleased" because she could now pay the mortgage as a result a positive hearing experience. Attorneys for both claimants and insurance companies see such positive experiences every day. As a regular reader of the NY Times, I have come to expect more analysis and less sensationalism from an 18 month investigation.