On June 28, 2011, the legislature enacted changes to Illinois’ century-old workers’ compensationsystem in an attempt to decrease the workers’ compensation insurance premiums that employers pay. Ever since then, there has been much scrutiny over the effectiveness of these changes and whether or not they create a better business environment in Illinois. However, one important consideration has been notably lacking in recent conversations regarding the effectiveness of the new laws: the rights and protections afforded to workers who get injured on the job in the state of Illinois.
The total disregard for the interests of our State’s injured workers, which persisted throughout the whole legislative process that yielded the changes to the laws, created a system that, in actuality, is more complex than its predecessor. The new system is also markedly more favorable to employers and their insurance carriers than injured workers and their treating doctors. Part of the new law seeks to set up preferred provider programs, or “PPP’s,” in order to limit an injured worker’s ability to seek medical treatment from his or her own doctor. Another part of the law slashes doctors’ fees by 30%, making it more difficult for reputable physicians to make a living by treating workers who are injured on the job.
Many of these cuts have been made at the primary or sole expense of the injured workers of this state, but this fact has not stopped the utterances of a familiar refrain from big business: the cuts were not deep enough and the costs of insurance are still too high. Given the fact that most of the changes did not go into effect until September 1, 2011, it would seem premature to make any overarching statements regarding the effectiveness of the changes to the laws. Of course, big business continues to claim that the sacrifices that injured workers in this state were forced to endure were made in vain and that the system still costs businesses too much money.
In reality, the insurance industry’s previous assurances that workers’ compensation rates would decrease as a result of these sacrifices were made in vain. This is clear given the fact that, not two weeks after Governor Quinn had put his signature on the changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act to make those changes the law of the land, the insurance industry, with the assistance of the National Council on Compensation Insurance, had requested an increase in premiums upwards of 3%. If the insurance industry has its way, they will keep collecting their increasingly high premiums while injured workers keep losing their rights and protections under the law. In the end, unless the workers’ compensation insurance industry becomes subject to the oversight of an independent regulatory agency, insurance companies will continue to unabashedly pursue their mission of making as much money as possible, without any regard for the welfare of the injured workers.
As we continue to observe how the changes to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Laws play out, check back with our Illinois workers’ compensation blog to make sure you keep up-to-date with all developments involving the workers’ compensation system in Illinois.