New York: Laws Expand Aid to Ground Zero Workers and Families

New York Gov. George Pataki on Aug. 14 approved three new laws aimed at removing "statutory obstacles" standing in the way of some World Trade Center rescue and cleanup workers' efforts to obtain workers' compensation benefits.

The legislative package also provides accidental death benefits to families of uniformed service personnel who died from 9-11-related illnesses.

"As it is clear that many champions of 9-11 have developed debilitating illnesses over time resulting from their selfless acts, these New Yorkers need to know that New York state will not abandon them," Pataki said in introducing the legislation. "These new laws and this comprehensive package opens doors and removes obstacles to obtaining benefits expeditiously. While we may never be able to fully repay our heroes, this is a significant step in providing for the needs of many as they nurse themselves back to health."

The legislative package:

  • Allows World Trade Center rescue, recovery and cleanup workers who became ill after the expiration of the state's two-year workers' compensation filing deadline to re-submit their claims for further consideration. (S. 8348)
  • Permits the families of fallen police officers, firefighters and other uniformed personnel who participated in the World Trade Center rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts to apply for accidental death benefits. (A. 11255-A)
  • Eliminates the statute of limitations to allow 9-11 rescue and recovery workers who retired from public service and later became disabled from illnesses related to their service to have their retirement status re-categorized as accidental disability. This re-classification, according to Pataki, would provide more generous benefits as long as the workers file a sworn affidavit of their participation in the World Trade Center operations by June 14, 2007. (A.10731-A)

"New York will never forget the heroes of Sept. 11, the men and women who tirelessly worked at the site of the world's most horrific terror attacks, to help save lives, recover the remains of loved ones and begin the rebuilding process in Lower Manhattan," Pataki said. "The brave men and women suffering from hidden health issues stemming from Sept. 11 should not be denied benefits because of a statutory time limit that they had no hope of meeting."

To date, the Workers' Compensation Board has indexed 10,779 claims related to the World Trade Center attacks, according to the state. Of those claims, 94 percent are classified as fully resolved, which means all issues that can be resolved at this time are resolved.

Pataki Plan Aims to Give 9-11 Workers 'Prompt Access' to Health Care Benefits

Coinciding with the signing of the three laws, Pataki announced what he called "a comprehensive plan to ensure that 9-11 rescue workers receive prompt access to the benefits and health care they rightfully deserve under the state's workers compensation system."

The plan, Pataki explained:

  • Calls on workers' compensation insurers and self-insured employers to exercise an option created and enacted as part of Pataki's 1996 workers' compensation reforms, which enabled insurers to expeditiously pay for medical treatment without prejudicing their right to further litigate a claim or admitting liability to the claim.
  • Directs the Workers' Compensation Board to expand the use of the MD-1 program created in 2002. The program utilizes orders of the chair to address insurers' failure to act in a timely fashion as required by law. The measure, according to Pataki, will ensure swifter access to medical care for claimants who have not received authorization for non-emergency health care procedures, such as MRIs and surgery. Insurers are expected to provide authorizations or denials within 30 days of a request for medical treatment. This provision will direct the chair to authorize procedures when a claimant is left to languish for more than 30 days without a response from the insurer.
  • Provides immediate relief for workers injured at Ground Zero or related activities by using a portion of a $50 million grant from the federal government to provide benefits to volunteers to pay for medical treatment during the period in which a claimant's workers' compensation case is being controverted by the insurer.

"On Sept. 11, nearly 3,000 lives were lost," Pataki said on Aug. 14. "Today, we must also provide for the families of our heroes that we have since lost due to illnesses related to their rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts. The legislation I sign into law today will ensure that the loved ones of these brave men and women will be provided for and receive appropriate benefits."

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