The New York Jockey Injury Compensation Fund is embarking on a first-in-the-nation plan to implement a high-deductible workers' compensation insurance plan, according to a Jan. 11 release. This plan will allow New York horsemen to have better control of their costs and be the ultimate beneficiaries of the advances that have been made in creating a safer work environment.
"The NYJICF is building upon the incredible progress the New York racing community has made on workers' compensation in the past two years," NYJICF and New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association president Joe Appelbaum said. "If legislation currently in place in the state is renewed as part of the budget process, the base premium charge will remain at $1,000 for (New York Racing Association)-based horsemen, and the fees for the first 12 stalls will be free for all trainers. This was a temporary savings for horsemen that we were able to make on June 1 of 2019, and we are thrilled to be able to continue it."
In addition, trainers will continue to receive a $300-per-start credit for every off-the-board start at Aqueduct Racetrack from January through March to be used to offset the cost of the base payment and additional stall fees.
In the past two years, the NYJICF lowered the cost of its charges for jockeys and exercise riders by $4,000 per trainer and $500 per owner, and premiums for backstretch workers have been reduced across the board.
"The rate for workers' compensation insurance for grooms and hotwalkers has fallen 36% over the last two years, greatly reducing the cost of the trainers' individual policy," Appelbaum said. "We have reports from trainers who have renewed their policies since the latest rate reduction went into effect on Oct. 1, and we are seeing year-over-year reductions that mirror the decrease in the rate for the class code, which dropped from 18.30 in 2018 to 14.33 in just this past year."
NYTHA teamed with NYRA to approve the use of $4.15 million from the purse cushion as collateral for the high-deductible plan. Both organizations also fully support the extension of provisions in the New York state budget that allow for 2% of the purse account and an additional $2 million from the purse cushion to be used to pay for workers' compensation for the exercise riders and jockeys in New York, a total of $5 million in costs not borne directly by horsemen.
"None of this would have been possible without the collaboration of NYRA every step of the way to make these significant improvements possible," Appelbaum said. "NYTHA has worked diligently with our state legislators, the (New York State) Gaming Commission, and NYRA to find ways to reduce the cost of doing business in New York. We have implemented programs and protocols to decrease the number and severity of injuries to our riders, we have acquired a commercial insurance carrier that provides superior claims management and administration, and we have partnered with our representatives in Albany to create legislation that provides tremendous relief for our horsemen."
"Our collective efforts have yielded positive results in considerably improving the overall environment for horsemen to do business in New York," said NYRA CEO and president David O'Rourke. "That said, we will continue to work closely with NYTHA and all relevant stakeholders to support these small businesses that form the backbone of Thoroughbred racing in New York."
Totaling the benefits of the "First 12 Stalls Free" and "$300 Per Start Credit" programs, a trainer with 12 stalls or less who is based in New York year-round pays nothing out of pocket for workers' compensation insurance for exercise riders, while an operation with as many as 40 stalls will save nearly 75% on average.
Bills crucial to the success of these programs will go before the New York state Legislature for renewal this year, and all indications are that they will pass.
Appelbaum cautioned: "We are relying on our representatives to provide us the tools we need to make New York state a great place to race. Without the ability to use industry funds to alleviate the cost of workers' compensation, the rate hikes would literally put horsemen out of business. We are grateful to the many assemblymen and women and senators who recognize the importance of our industry to the state, and we look forward to working with them again this year on this vital legislation."
With the new high-deductible plan, horsemen will also have a stake in ensuring the safest possible work environment at the NYRA tracks.
"If we see an increase in the injury rate, it will have a direct effect on the cost of the NYJICF program," Appelbaum said. "Premiums will go up, and the benefits from our many programs will be lost. We call upon our trainers to exercise every caution in ensuring that we keep our insurance rates down.
"We are encouraged to see the fruitful results of our efforts and will double down on those efforts to see that the trend continues."
Trainers who have questions about the NYJICF program, or who need assistance navigating the workers' compensation system to determine ways to lower costs, are invited to bring their policies to the NYTHA office at Aqueduct from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on all racing days.
NYTHA is also working to create an industry-wide workers' compensation program to cover all backstretch workers geared toward even deeper savings for horsemen.
"We will be collecting copies of individual workers' compensation policies and loss runs in the coming weeks and will need the help of our top trainers to make this new program a reality," Appelbaum said.