Ever heard the old saying, "don't judge a book by its cover?" The same can be said of bills passed in Springfield called "reform." The General Assembly approved a diluted workers' compensation bill in the final hours of the spring legislative session under the guise of reform that in truth falls far short of making the meaningful changes needed to reduce the crushing cost of Illinois' broken workers' comp system.
The most important reform we need is to ensure that injuries claimed under workers' compensation actually occurred on the job or are predominately work related. While that would seem to be commonsense, it's not currently the law in Illinois, nor part of the legislation that passed the House and Senate this spring. Whatever positive impact intended by the legislation is mitigated by the fact that the new law continues to reward non-work related injuries, though at a lesser rate.
When Florida enacted causation-based reform in 2003, workers' compensation costs decreased by nearly 70%. That's the kind of true reform we need in Illinois; fair and balanced for all parties.
I did not go to Springfield to settle for window dressing of a serious crisis in Illinois and call it "reform." As a businessman of 38 years at a trucking company based in Madison County, I know that good math is preferential to political strategy when it comes to crafting a solution needed to rescue business in our state. I have firsthand knowledge of the workers' compensation system and know how much real reform is needed.
For decades Illinois' small and large employers have pleaded with Springfield to reform the workers' compensation system. The request for real reform requires an even playing field, much like Illinois' neighboring states have provided. Those pleas have largely fallen on deaf ears. Our current system continues to be a job-killer and only encourages job migration to neighboring states.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and Caterpillar, one of the largest employers in this state, were neutral on House Bill 1698 – which was touted as significant reform. This after the fact that the Governor and some of the leading business associations and companies, most notably, Caterpillar, came to an agreement in early May to use AMA guidelines to provide an objective assessment of claimed workplace injuries. The initial agreement placed an emphasis on the objective assessment of the injury. Unfortunately, HB 1698 varied significantly from that agreement. It was my hope that these guidelines would be applied on an objective basis, not only to provide increased savings, but to also provide predictability toward future costs.
Furthermore, partisan politics should never influence the administration of Illinois' workers' comp system. Currently, the terms of the arbitrators on the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission are set to expire on July 1 when they will have to re-apply for their jobs. The workers' comp bill approved this spring gives the Governor total control over making appointments to the Commission and further gives the Democratic-controlled Senate sole authority to confirm them – an unsettling combination.
In short, the new workers' comp bill is smoke and mirrors based on faulty economics and fuzzy math. The savings will be miniscule for Illinois employers and as a result, our workers' comp system will remain fundamentally broken.
Illinois has needed workers' compensation reform for a very long time, but we need to do it right. We cannot settle for trimming around the edges. I will continue working to promote causation-based reform that says that injuries must arise out of the work place and in the course of employment. This one solitary change would result in measurable cost savings to employers and spur significant job growth. Likewise, it would fairly take care of any job related injuries for workers.
Together, we can put the teeth back into workers' comp reform instead of settling for perfume on a pig. It is time that we remember that work comp was intended to be compensation, not a benefit.
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Illinois Chamber of Commerce