Workers’ Compensation Reform in Illinois and Nationwide

In June 2011, Illinois passed a bill reforming the state's workers' compensation system in an effort to cut costs and stimulate business growth. In so doing, Illinois joined a long list of states passing increasingly stringent requirements for workers to meet in order to receive workers' compensation benefits for on-the-job injuries. While supporters of Illinois' workers' compensation reform bill claim that it will make Illinois more attractive to businesses by saving them money, many critics argue that injured workers will suffer under the law's new provisions.

National Trends in Workers' Compensation Legislation

Every state in the U.S. except Texas requires businesses that operate in them to carry some form of workers' compensation insurance. Many larger businesses meet this requirement by self-insuring, paying injured workers' benefits according to statutory requirement. In four states, if a company cannot afford to self-insure it must enroll in the state workers' compensation insurance plan. In about 20 states, businesses may self-insure, join the state plan or purchase private workers' compensation insurance. In the remaining states the only option businesses that cannot afford to self-insure have is to purchase private insurance.

Illinois was not the only state to pass legislation concerning the workers' compensation system in 2011. North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas, Washington State and Montana all enacted bills aimed at revamping their workers' compensation systems. Faced with increasing medical costs, states across the country have been gradually tightening eligibility requirements for workers' compensation benefits since the mid-1990s. States have been competing to keep costs down in order to make themselves seem more business-friendly and attract businesses to their state.

Impact of Illinois' Workers' Compensation Reform

The Illinois workers' compensation reform legislation was designed to cut costs for claims, but ends up making it more difficult for injured workers to collect benefits and treat their injuries. The major cost-saving mechanism of the legislation is that healthcare providers get paid 30 percent less for workers' compensation claims they treat. This may make doctors less likely to want to treat a workers' compensation claim injury, and lead to longer wait times for injured workers. Another provision in the bill reduces the reimbursement for workers making a claim for carpal tunnel syndrome.

One of the most detrimental elements of the new law for injured employees is that employers and insurers can now establish Preferred Provider Networks (PPN), lists of healthcare providers that employees must see if they make a workers' compensation claim. Workers may opt out of using PPNs, but the law is filled with disincentives to prevent employees from doing so. Using such networks essentially robs the employees of the freedom to choose their own doctors to care for them when they are injured.

Other provisions of the reform include a pilot collective bargaining program for workers compensation benefits and new guidelines for determining disabilities. All these steps have the potential to limit the amount of benefits injured workers receive.

Lawmakers across the county are trying to cut costs for workers' compensation programs. Their efforts, however, may make it more difficult for injured employees to get the benefits and treatment they need to get back to work, which may end up costing employers more in the long run.

Although the environment for collecting workers compensation benefits has changed, a knowledgeable and experienced attorney can still work to ensure you receive the benefits you need and deserve.