On May 26, 2017, Illinois Democratic legislators voted to pass two new measures designed to reform workers’ compensation law in the state. The measures were proposed in response to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s demand for cost-cutting workers’ compensation changes to be passed before he will agree to an annual budget. Illinois has been without a budget for two years.
While changes in workers’ compensation law passed in 2011 lowered medical and replacement-wages payments by 20 percent from 2011 to 2015, insurance premiums paid by Illinois employers for workers’ compensation have gone up nearly 15 percent during the same period. Experts have argued that this disparity is largely due to the fact that Illinois does not currently require insurance companies to adopt lower rates, as other states do.
To counteract this trend, Democratic State Rep. Jay Hoffman initiated a measure that would require state Insurance Department-approved rates based on market need. It was also sponsored by State Sen. Kwame Raoul. Another measure, sponsored by State Sen. Daniel Biss and State Rep. Laura Fine, would create a non-profit insurance company, with government oversight, that would compete for policies in an effort to drive down rates. Both bills have passed the House and the Senate and will now be going to Gov. Rauner’s office.
Senate Republicans derided the legislation as a “delay” and not “reform,” while the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association issued a statement opposing it.
Republicans have advocated for workers’ compensation arbitration that solely considers American Medical Association (AMA) guidelines for “impairment.” Under the current system, arbitrators may also consider a worker’s occupation, future earning capacity, and age, among other factors. Democratic Senate Pres. John Cullerton, however, has argued that using only AMA guidelines would be inadequate. For example, by employing that criterion, both a concert pianist and a bus driver would be entitled to the same award for the loss of a finger, even though it would impact their livelihoods to different degrees.
Republicans have also proposed a list outlining eligible prescription drugs, a change that allows a company or its worker to forgo injury measures, and a measure to speed the process for first responders.