Illinois Workers' Compensation Reform, What Happened

Illinois Workers' Compensation Reform, What Happened

Late Tuesday night, after many months of attempts, Illinois finally passed a workers' compensation "reform" bill.  I love when politics and marketing cross paths with words like "reform" or "no child left behind" or "patriot act."  How could anyone be against those things.  But I digress.

The reforms do address the high cost of medical services for work injuries.  Basically doctors/hospitals get more for work comp claims under the current system than they do from regular patients.  They'll still make a ton, but just not as much as before, 30% less to be exact.

Workers got screwed in a couple of ways, but it's not as drastic as some proposals were.  The worst one is limiting what carpal tunnel cases on the job are worth.  Basically what happened is that a bunch of downstate prison guards filed carpal tunnel cases because the state wouldn't allow them to install a device that would open and close doors by themselves.  Since guards were turning wheels that controlled steel doors, many of them developed wrist problems.  Some of them were probably full of it, but as a result these cases aren't worth very much any more in order to spite these state employees.  So if you are a secretary that has carpal tunnel from typing all day then you know who to blame when your case isn't worth hardly anything.

Current Arbitrators got screwed because they are all getting lumped in with two bad ones from downstate that apparently were too friendly with the attorneys.  Guess what, Judges are always going to be friendly with the lawyers they see the most.  So now all of the Arbitrators are getting fired, but can re-apply for their jobs.  This sounds like a rule that will never actually get enforced because the cost to train and hire new Arbitrators would be a lot and the only ones you could hire are going to be those who are familiar with the system already.

Businesses in Illinois are the big winners because they got a ton while giving up nothing even though claims against them are down about 40% in the last 5 years.  That said, some Republicans are already posturing for more gains with claims that are just lies:

"The person who plays football on Sunday afternoon gets hurt and goes to work on Monday and says he has a workers compensation injury, we don't address that, the very meat and potatoes of what we need to do," complained House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego).

That sounds outrageous and would be if it was true.  But the truth is that any injured worker has to prove that their injury arose out of and in the course of their employment.  In the course of means while they were working or doing something for the benefit of the employer.  So if the scenario that Tom Cross describes happens then the case can and will be fought and in fact the worker can be charged with fraud.  So while Cross makes a nice headline grabbing statement, it means nothing.  Shocking that a politician would say something that is either just a lie or based on them not taking the time to do more than read a talking point.

Beyond this, most of the changes are marginal.  Choices of doctors are limited to those approved by the Illinois Department of Insurance, but until we see the actual selection criteria for that, it's hard to state that it will have much of an impact.  I don't know how they would turn down anyone affiliated with a major hospital or practice group.  What will probably happen, to the benefit of workers, is that more of them will end up with specialists instead of their family practice docs.  This will cost insurance companies more money, but it will be better for the health of the workers.  Either way this is much better than the proposal from April to let insurance companies pick your doctor for you.

There are other minor changes, but I don't think any of them will send shock waves through the system.  So given all of the crazy proposals, I think that workers escaped a bullet.  The system when it goes in place (I heard 9-1-11 is the date, but not confirmed) is worse for workers, but it's no where near as bad as it could be.


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  • I have written on this issue many times and appreciate your comment and coverage on this. The State had better ways to deal with the Illinois budget than taking apart the Worker's Comp system as it stands. The area of the new Bill I am most concerned about is the Standards that may be considered when evaluating the value of an injury. This is tied to the AMA and most likely insurance companies will use it as a barometer for the value of an injury. Worker's Comp did work well. The doctors charge much more money for comp injuries than they should, but insurance companies still made money. So, let's see if the cost to businesses for comp insurance really goes down. I would bet not much.

  • In reply to Terri Lee Ryan:

    Thanks. AMA is supposed to be "a factor." Remains to be seen if it will push down the worth of cases. What I think it will do is force lots of trials on these issues to somewhat re-establish what cases are worth. But unless a bunch of neo-cons become Arbitrators (and they won't) I don't see many of the Arbitrators pushing this down too far. But it's going to be a lot of work for lawyers which ironically will drive up costs for employers due to higher legal bills.

  • It is mandatory for all employers to take out Workers Compensation insurance to cover their staff. It is the employee’s responsibility to notify their employer at the time of having an accident, and is also important to seek medical advice as soon as possible to have the injury investigated and formally documented.

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