Thursday, April 14, 2011

Republicans' workers' comp reforms fail

By Jamey Dunn

The Illinois Senate today shot down a workers’ compensation reform bill backed by Republicans and the business community.

“This workers' compensation bill is the first sign of hope that companies currently have in Illinois. Without this bill, and without real workers’ compensation reform, there is no good news or reason to keep your company in Illinois,” Rep. Dan Duffy, A Lake Barrington Republican, said of Senate Bill 1349 during debate on the House floor.

The legislation, sponsored by Lebanon Republican Sen. Kyle McCarter, would have:

  • Cut the fees paid to doctors who treat workers’ compensation patients by 30 percent.
  • Created a “causation” provision, which could have required that an injury be at least 51 percent job-related to be eligible for workers’ compensation. (This issue is perhaps the most volatile subject of negotiations, with many in the business community viewing it as a deal breaker.)
  • Required that American Medical Association guidelines be used to determine impairment
  • Required that injured employees be treated by a doctor of the employer's choice for the first 60 days after the injury occurred
  • Created stricter penalties for fraudulent claims that involve seeking payment for a medical service that was not provided.
Democrats said it was premature to pass a bill while negotiations are still ongoing between the stakeholders. “Workers’ comp overhaul is clearly the single most important piece of legislation we can pass in this session to prove we’re serious about improving the business climate,” said Senate President John Cullerton. He added that if senators truly want to change the system, they must negotiate a bill that would pass in the House, and that Gov. Pat Quinn, who has his own package of proposed workers’ compensation reforms, would sign.

Republicans accused Democrats of being unable to stand up to labor unions and trial lawyers, traditionally their political allies, to make needed but potentially painful changes. “I don’t know what will finally happen with this. But if it isn’t strong enough to make a difference, forget it. We’re wasting our time if we can’t compete with our neighboring states,” said Sen. David Luechtefeld, a Republican from Okawville.

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