A friend forwarded me an editorial from last week by the Tribune, calling for Illinois workers' compensation reform. Now I don't have a great deal of faith in newspapers because it seems any time you personally know the facts of a story, the truth isn't represented in what you read. This editorial is a perfect example of weak research and investigation. It reads in part:
When Democratic leaders whisper of reform on this, they run smack into two of their most powerful constituencies: organized labor and trial lawyers. So if they get something substantial done, give them points for courage.
There is much to do.
How can anyone argue that compensation claims should be awarded for workers who get hurt because they're drunk or high on the job? Or that benefits should be paid for life, long past the age when Social Security and other retirement programs have kicked in? Or that employers should pay in cases where the injuries didn't happen on the job?
The overly generous medical-fee schedule should be adjusted (though that will upset the doctors and hospitals, a powerful Republican constituency). We should not reimburse for surgical equipment at way more than the actual cost. We should pay out-of-state providers according to lower fee schedules in their states. We should use standard guidelines for measuring disability levels. And we should weed out biased arbitrators who routinely sock it to employers.
We also need to deal with fraud. At a recent committee hearing, testimony indicated that staffing for the state office established in 2005 to combat work comp fraud had been slashed. There's talk about funding an assistant attorney general to prosecute these oft-ignored cases. That would swiftly pay for itself.
It's good to see the General Assembly put a spotlight on an urgent business issue. Now, deliver.
Now if you didn't know anything about Illinois workers' compensation laws and read this, you'd think, "what, you can be drunk or high on the job, get hurt and still get paid, where do I sign up for this program." Sadly, it appears the Trib editors were drunk or high or in reality just only looking for the inflamatory position because alas, if your are drunk or high and that is why you get hurt on the job, you don't get workers' compensation benefits.
You might further read in this editorial that employess can get compensated for injuries that didn't happen on the job. If you are down on your luck and need some fast cash, that sounds like a great way to make a buck. Unfortunately, there is no basis in fact or reality in these statements by the Tribsters. The law is pretty clear, an accident has to arise out of and in the course of your employment to be covered. Out of means doing an activity for your employer. In the course of means during working hours. If the Trib has good examples of people getting workers' compensation benefits for injuries when they weren't working, please let us know.
Weed out biased arbitrators? That sounds great. Who do you propose to make those decisions? Prosecute fraud? That law is on the books. I'm all for putting anyone who commits workers' compensation fraud in jail. How about we just enforce the law.
Is the workers' compensation system perfect in Illinois? Of course not. Lots of things should be fixed. But here is an interesting fact for you. About five years ago, when allegedly it was cheap to get Illinois workers' compensation insurance, there were more than 70,000 claims filed in Illinois. In 2010 there were less than 45,000. So tell me how insurance rates are going through the roof when claims are down about 40%? Yes there are less jobs, but the bigger issue that I hear from injured workers is that their bosses tell them they will get fired if they pursue a case.
Perhaps the Tribune board should actually do some investigative reporting as to why insurance companies are gouging employers, but not paying out claims.
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