Illinois Workers’ Comp Overhaul Passes on Second Try

By ZACHARY COLMAN | June 2, 2011

It took two tries, but lawmakers approved a major overhaul of Illinois workers’ compensation system Tuesday in an effort to save businesses hundreds of millions of dollars.

The measure now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, who said he “absolutely” will sign it.

It passed 62-43 in the Illinois House just 48 hours after the same chamber rejected it.

At the time of Sunday’s vote, Rep. John Bradley, the sponsor, warned his colleagues that he would not call the bill for another vote and instead would push to eliminate workers’ compensation entirely. That threat and intense lobbying produced a few more votes, and the Marion Democrat revived the bill just hours before the legislative session was scheduled to end.

Republicans said the bill isn’t real reform and hits doctors too hard by cutting their fees.

Businesses complain that workers’ compensation is far too expensive. Unnecessary treatment is allowed, medical fees are too high and awards to injured workers are too large, they say.

The changes are supposed to cut between $500 million and $700 million from workers’ compensation, which totals $3 billion.

Medical fees will be reduced 30 percent. Payments for carpal tunnel syndrome will last only 28 1/2 weeks, instead of 40. New guidelines will govern what treatment injured workers can receive and make harder for intoxicated workers to win claims.

Employers can organize medical networks for handling workers’ compensation cases. Business leaders say that will lower costs and choose doctors who don’t cater as much to workers.

The bill addresses potential abuse by firing the arbitrators who decide claims. New arbitrators will serve three-year terms instead of six and will be barred from accepting gifts. Critics say arbitrators have been too “cozy” with workers and their lawyers.

“These are huge changes,” Bradley said.

Republicans strongly disagreed. Only one Republican voted for the changes Tuesday, one more than backed it Sunday.

“This bill does nothing to change the culture of corruption that hovers over the workers’ compensation system,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego. “It doesn’t look like reform. It doesn’t smell like reform. It isn’t reform.”

Republicans wanted smaller cuts for the medical industry, a heavy contributor to GOP candidates. They also wanted a requirement that workers prove their injuries are job related before winning any claim.

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