Unclear Future for Illinois Workers’ Compensation Reform
Workers' compensation reform in Illinois has been a continual and politically charged issue for several years. The General Assembly approved a set of changes in 2005 that legislators believed would reduce costs. Unfortunately, costs continued to increase. Earlier this year, Illinois Department of Insurance Director Michael McRaith indicated that businesses spend nearly $3 billion annually in insurance costs, the second highest in the nation. He also suggested that cost cutting will benefit businesses, insurers and medical providers alike.
Legislators eventually approved House Bill 1698, which made significant changes to the Illinois workers' compensation system. A report by Progress Illinois highlights some of the key provisions, including the following:
Reduction in payments
Doctors and other medical professionals will take a 30 percent reduction in rates paid on workers' compensation cases. Proponents believe this will bring workers' comp payments in line with other medical payments. (Doctors previously received more for workers' comp claims.) However, critics say that these cases are more complicated and require more time because of the greater scrutiny of worker injuries.
The law requires injury awards to be determined by using American Medical Association's Guide to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. The law also caps repetitive trauma carpal tunnel syndrome awards, reducing the benefit period for such injuries.
Preferred Provider Plans
Employers can create preferred provider plans, which build a network of doctors and other medical professionals for employees to consult in treating their injuries. An injured employee can see two doctors in the network before deciding on care. Advocates believe this will limit the practice of doctor shopping and sets a predictable fee schedule that will prevent costs from spiraling out of control.
Burden of Proof
Employees will be subject to blood, urine and other testing after an injury. Evidence of intoxication will create a presumption that the drug or alcohol use was the cause of the accident. As such, the employee now bears the burden of showing whether drugs or alcohol contributed to an accident.
While the new law was signed into law on June 28 th, the reforms are scheduled to take effect in stages over the next several years. At this point, speculation abounds as to whether the changes will actually reduce costs while maintaining patient care. In the meantime, those injured on the job should contact an experienced Illinois workers' compensation lawyer for information on how the new changes may affect their claim.