Workers' comp a tiny piece of puzzling priorities in Illinois, law firm argues
Illinois has a lot bigger problems to worry about than workers' compensation issues, a Chicago law firm argued recently, pointing to massive debt, business departures and taxpayers being left behind as much more pressing issues.
Plus, it's not that had to fix, Keefe, Campbell, Biery & Associates (KCB&A) said.
“We find it a bit puzzling workers’ compensation reform continues to be such a focus of concern to the extent it is seen as a sticking point for our State’s budget,” the firm posted on its website. “With the nation’s highest budgetary deficits and massive under-funding of state government pensions, it is our impression that tackling workers’ compensation reform in Illinois at this juncture is a bit like focusing on untangling a tiny knot in the dragon’s tail as he is about to breath fire over the entire state.”
The firm offered a list of what it deems more-pressing issues: the state’s lack of a full-year budget for the past two years has kept it from paying vendor bills, with a backlog that has grown to $14.5 billion and continues getting worse; Aurora and its surrounding communities will lose 1,400 jobs after Butterball and Caterpillar plants close there; and judges and justices earn salaries starting at $200,000 per year – with automatic raises – for jobs the firm characterized as “effectively part-time.”
KCB&A also noted the General Assembly’s proposals – which it sees as likely to take effect – to increase the state income tax to 5 percent and extend the state sales tax to services ranging from property maintenance and dry-cleaning to pest control and tattooing.
In the midst of this, reform to the workers’ compensation system has occupied a disproportionate amount of the General Assembly’s time, according to KCB&A. The state government enacted reforms to the system in 2011, which the firm acknowledged have not had a significant impact, but instead of allowing budget negotiations to be hung up on further reforms that have proved contentious, the firm proposed two measures it argued would be both effective and easily adopted.
KCB&A called for the permanent partial disability (PPD) schedule to revert back to the values in place before a 2005 increase. That change saw a 7 percent increase in PPD values for injuries, despite Illinois’ existing values being considered generous. The resulting gains have made injuries more lucrative for claimants and their attorneys.
The group also urged the adoption of a workers’ compensation medical fee payment schedule based on an average of the schedules of large group providers.
“Doing so will allow doctors to be paid the same, whether treatment is under workers’ comp or group health,” the firm said. “Moreover, this method would eliminate the financial incentive for doctors to drive claims into workers’ compensation to collect higher rates, as we have certainly seen some medical providers do over the years.”
KCB&A presented its suggestion as a better alternative to two proposed systems of fee schedules, one based on locations and the other on Medicare reimbursements. The firm said the latter would be especially problematic, as it could make some doctors forgo workers’ compensation cases.
“Making these two simple changes, which we expect should be fairly easy to pass with both the Governor’s and General Assembly’s approval, will save enough to make Illinois competitive again and also keep benefits adequate for our Illinois workers,” the firm said.
KCB&A also suggested that Gov. Bruce Rauner work within his authority over the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission to enact some of the changes he is fighting for, such as creating a stricter causation standard and strengthening the guidelines that govern the classification of PPD and permanency/impairment.
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