To the Editor:
Across Illinois, seniors, individuals with disabilities and other vulnerable citizens are going without vital services because Gov. Rauner is holding the budget hostage until he succeeds in upending our workers’ compensation and legal systems. However, his proposals would do nothing to improve the state’s financial standing or fund the state services necessary to support individuals in need of critical assistance.
In his budget address today, Gov. Rauner continues to demand that lawmakers roll back the financial safeguards that our state’s workers’ compensation and tort systems afford to Illinoisans.
To maximize insurance industry profits, the governor has renewed his crusade to undercut the rights of injured workers. He and his political allies willfully ignore the fact that the 2011 rewrite of the workers’ compensation system – those changes sought by the business community, and which were largely to the detriment of men and women injured on the job – is producing the desired result: lower costs for insurance companies and employers.
As the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission stated in its FY 2014 report, Illinois employers experienced the largest decrease in workers’ comp premiums among all 50 states. And the commission anticipates further savings once the full effects of the 2011 workers’ comp overhaul are felt.
The governor would like to see Illinois emulate states like Texas and Massachusetts. However, following the lead of those two states would come at a great cost to taxpayers. Texas has fewer regulations, lower wages and a weaker safety net – resulting in a shrinking middle class. The poverty rate in Texas is nearly five percent higher than Illinois.
In Massachusetts, doctors who care for those injured on the job are the lowest paid in the nation, which raises concerns about access to quality care. If Illinois further reduces the rate doctors are compensated to treat injured workers to match Massachusetts’ levels, a patient’s choice of physicians will be seriously limited and wait times for treatment are sure to rise significantly.
No matter how many benefits are cut, medical reimbursements are lowered, and claims are denied, the state’s businesses won’t see additional savings without our leaders addressing the promises previously broken by the insurance industry. Strictly regulating insurance premiums, not further curtailing injured workers’ rights, is the key to managing employers’ workers’ compensation costs.
The governor also wants to erode the constitutional rights of citizens to access the courts that their tax dollars fund – helping shield the profits of his big business allies at the expense of those who suffer due to their malfeasance.
The fact is that very few injured Americans ever file lawsuits. In Illinois, the number of civil cases filed has dropped 33 percent from 2010 to 2014. More than 60 percent of court actions are initiated by businesses suing other businesses or individuals for money, but the governor has not proposed limiting the access of corporations, banks and investment companies to the court system.
Gov. Rauner needs to focus on real, meaningful solutions to fix our state’s problems. The state budget cannot be balanced on the backs of those injured due to no fault of their own.
Perry Browder, President
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association