The Illinois Senate’s Special Committee on Workers’ Compensation conducted a second fact-finding hearing at the Thompson Center in Chicago on December 8, 2010 that lasted five hours. The Illinois Chamber and the Joint Employers Group presented testimony of five more employers, who again outlined the impact that rising workers’ compensation costs have on their respective businesses. Dr. Wolin testified as he did before the House Committee on December 3 regarding the issues with the use of AMA guidelines in Illinois Workers’ Compensation cases. The AMA guidelines use an “impairment” rating system, which measures one’s impairment in performing everyday life activities. It is not a “disability” rating system, or a system that measures the impact the injury reportedly has on the claimant’s ability to perform his/her regular job duties. Illinois’ workers’ compensation laws have historically been based upon measurement of job-related disability for determination of permanency benefits. Dr. Wolin also outlined the current issues with UR in Illinois and provided some suggestions on what could be done to improve UR and its efficiency in practice. Labor and the trial lawyers in an unexpected move presented testimony of some severely injured workers and a widow regarding the impact work injuries have had on their lives in a presentation designed to show that the current system does not sufficiently compensate injured employees. (None of the people testifying had carpal tunnel syndrome claims or back strain claims.)
The hearing concluded with testimony from IWCC Chairman Mitch Weisz, who we believe took a neutral and fairly objective approach in outlining for the Committee the various issues that have been presented to the Committee by both sides and an outright admission that Illinois is not competitive because of the current laws. He essentially provided a bullet point list of several items with his general thoughts on what might be done make Illinois competitive beginning with the Medical Fee Schedule. Chairman Weisz, along with Mr. Glen Boyle, who helped design the current Medical Fee Schedule, spent a fair amount of time discussing the current problems with the Medical Fee Schedule and how this can be improved to be more cost-effective for employers, including but not limited to: a 10% “rollback” on the fee caps (an immediate savings of over $100 million in medical costs), plugging some of the holes in the fee schedule (i.e. fee caps for costs for medical implants and prescription medications), collapsing the 29 geo-zips into a smaller grouping of 2-5 regions in the State, and enacting legislation that would allow the IWCC, through guidance from its Medical Fee Schedule Advisory Board, to make changes to the Fee Schedule more quickly without requiring legislative action. He also addressed topics such as the proposal for collectively bargaining mediated workers’ compensation for union shops (he thought this was an interesting concept but perhaps not an appropriate solution at this time), modifications to UR, better funding of the fraud unit to include funding for special prosecutors, possible caps on wage differential benefits (stating that this proposal “has some merit”) and a modification of the current Rate Adjustment Fund system. The fact that the Senators all stayed for the full five hours of this hearing, listening and asking questions throughout the hearing, suggests that the Senate Special Committee on Workers’ Compensation now understands that there is a problem with the costs of workers’ compensation in Illinois and that they are intent on finding some solutions to those problems.
This week, the House committee will conduct two additional hearings: December 15 in Bloomington, Illinois and December 16 in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. We also understand that the Senate committee is already meeting (perhaps as early as today) to discuss draft legislation designed to amend the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. If you haven’t spoken with your local legislators, now is the time to do so. Please continue to follow our blog for further updates, and you can get the schedule and location of this week’s hearings here.