Significant progress has been made by the NJ Division of Workers’ Compensation (NJ-DWC) in carrying out the legislative mandate for the newly enacted emergent medical care motion practice. The Honorable Peter J. Calderone, Director and Chief Judge of the NJ-DWC, delivered a highly favorable report to attorneys attending a workers’ compensation seminar yesterday. The academic seminar was sponsored by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education.
Judge Calderone’s report, based on intense statistical tracking and personal involvement of the Director himself, reveals that New Jersey’s injured workers are in fact receiving medical treatment to “cure and relieve their medical conditions” without delay.
The NJ-DWC has approximately 95,000 cases open cases pending in the system each year. The program efficiently and effectively handles disputes as to medical benefits, temporary disability and permanent disability issues.
Two procedural motions are available to parties who seek medical care when a dispute arises. An ordinary motion for medical care, established by regulation, has been utilized for years, if not decades, as an avenue to seek redress. The ordinary motion addresses the needs of the parties who require medical care but their condition is not emergent. These motions are handled at the local hearing office level and their status reported to the Director every 90 days, as they remain pending. Approximately 2% of the pending claims statewide involve such ordinary medical motions.
As a result of concerns expressed in the media approximately 2 years ago, alleging long delays in the handling of claims for emergent medical care, the NJ Legislature, enacted a statutory mechanism to resolve disputes. That motion requires the observance of a stringent time table for judicial action. In those cases, where there is a need for emergent medical care, and the failure to provide it on a timely basis would result in irreparable harm, the new administrative procedures for an emergent medical motion may be invoked.
Immediately following the enactment of the statute, almost a year ago, the NJ-DWC proposed Rules to be followed in processing emergent care motions that would conform with the Legislative mandate. The NJ-DWC operated in conformance with the proposed Rules until they were finally adopted on October 5, 2008, which followed a period for public comment, The rules set forth specific criteria and address procedural compliance issues. The carefully drafted Rules permit those injured workers who are in need of urgent medical care immediate access to the NJ-DWC system for a speedy and efficient resolution of their claim.
Over the last year, Judge Calderone, has taken an active role in reviewing every single motion that has been filed, in consultation with the supervising judge of the district office where the case has been venued. A joint determination was then made as to whether or not the statutory criteria had been met and the procedural and substantive compliance with the rules addressed. If there was compliance by the filing party, the NJ-DWC acted immediately to list the matter for a pre-trial conference in an effort to resolve the dispute before the commencement of a trial. This process remains ongoing.
The statistical evidence reported by Judge Calderone reflects the fact that very few cases have utilized the process, and of those filed, almost all have been resolved within a matter of days on an amicable basis. Within the last year, approximately 50 motions have been filed for emergent medical care, and of those, 16 (32%) had actually satisfied the criteria for filing. Of the 16 that met the criteria to be listed for a conference, all of the cases have been resolved at the conference except for two matters during last year, and those had been set down for trial.
Through the efforts and concerns of the NJ Legislature and the Division of Workers’ Compensation, a good system has been made even better. While this favorable aspect of the NJ workers’ compensation system cannot be globally utilized to solve all the short comings of the national health care crisis, it is a star that shines brightly and may provide some guidance in the on going national health care debate.