Gov. Quinn signs workers’ comp reform

Gov. Pat Quinn stopped in Champaign on Tuesday to highlight the passing of what he termed a “landmark” workers’ compensation reform. He appeared with various local and state legislative backers of the bill and re-enacted the signing of the bill itself, which took place in Springfield last night.

Quinn stressed that these reforms have long been in need and represent a larger goal of strengthening the state’s economy and reversing its floundering financial situation.

“I think one of the best ways we can help employees and workers in Illinois is to reform our workers’ compensation system,” Quinn said. “It’s been a long time, more than a generation, since any significant (reform) happened. And this year we banded together and vowed that we would work together, workers and businesses and negotiate a bill that would make a real difference for the employers of the state.”

Workers’ compensation premiums in Illinois are among the highest in the country, and Quinn said employers pay $3 billion per year to keep up, even more than they pay in taxes.

The changes include reducing the medical fee schedule by 30 percent, which will account for the bulk of the $500 to $750 million Quinn claims employers will save per year, which translates to as much as a 14.9 percent reduction in premiums, according to a press release.

The presentation was business-oriented and attended by presidents of Illinois merchant and manufacturers’ associations. Quinn and the legislators present concentrated their remarks on the reform’s potential to retain businesses within the state, but they also addressed the needs of “legitimately” injured workers.

“I think that we’re advancing a measure that continues to allow legitimately injured employees to seek compensation, but we do so in a respectful manner that does not chase employers out of Illinois,” said State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-13.

State Rep. John Bradley, D-117, fleshed out the balancing act — workers’ rights on one hand, retaining employers on the other — that legislators have contended with by drawing on his own family history, speaking of a great-grandfather who was injured in a coal mine in the early 1900s.

“He didn’t get workers’ comp, he didn’t have a remedy, and it nearly destroyed not only his life but the life of the rest of my family. But on the other hand I remember growing up in southern Illinois and watching the coal mines and factories close and leave,” Bradley said. “We have the delicate chore of balancing the rights of legitimately injured workers and at the same time make companies competitive on a national, local and global level.”

Opponents of the bill have expressed concern that the bill will affect the medical coverage available to workers seeking treatment, but State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-103, said employees will retain choice over their doctors and treatment.

“An earlier version (of the bill) was going to be more restrictive for the employee, but now, I believe, the employee has a choice: company doctor or his or her own doctor,” Jakobsson said.

One issue with the bill involves compensation for carpal tunnel syndrome, which will now be capped for both partial and permanent disability.

In response to questions about that issue, Quinn only said “there are provisions for compensations for that (injury), but they are reasonable provisions.”

Another component of the bill will reform the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. The reform effectively terminates the employment of every arbitrator employed by the commission, with the possibility of rehiring after strict performance evaluations, according to the press release.