Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Quinn to sign workers' comp reform

By Jamey Dunn

Going back on an earlier statement that he would not give lawmakers another chance to vote on his proposal to reform the state’s workers’ compensation system, Rep. John Bradley ran the bill again today and was able to find enough votes on his side of the aisle to pass it.

Bradley, a Marion Democrat, made no changes to his proposal the second time around. Republicans were consistent with their opposition, as well, though they had additional complaints.

House Bill 1698 (amendments 3 and 5) would:

  • Reduce the fees paid to doctors for treating injured employees by 30 percent.
  • Require the use of American Medical Association standards when determining workers’ level of impairment from injuries.
  • Create new rules for the appointment and conduct of arbitrators, who decide the outcome of claims.
  • Allow creation of a “provider network” of doctors. Injured employees could pick their doctors, but only from this predetermined pool. An injured worker would still be able to visit a doctor outside of the network but could not be able to get a second opinion from a doctor of his or her choice.

Current arbitrators would all be out of a job on July 1. They could reapply, but they would have to be appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn and confirmed by the Senate for their three-year terms. Arbitrators could only serve two years in any given area to avoid forming any corrupt, “cozy” relationships with local workers.

“We have an opportunity to fix a broken system. … This about the future of our state. … This is about moving forward and not staying in the past. This is about doing something historic,” Bradley said. He said the bill would save employers $500 million to $700 million annually, according to estimates from the Illinois Department of Insurance.

However, House Republicans took issue with those numbers.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross said Bradley’s estimated savings are “manipulated” and “embellished” and greatly miss the mark. “We may be lucky to get to $100 [million] to $200 million in savings.”

He said the plan would not prevent workers from “doctor shopping to get a desired diagnosis or make workers prove that their injury truly stems from something that took place on the job. Cross said the bill “would do nothing but look good on [campaign] mail pieces and look good in the newspaper as headlines.”

Rep. Roger Eddy, a Republican from Hutsonville, said lawmakers should take more time to work out a more comprehensive reform package that spreads the pain more evenly. He said that because the only “strong” opposition to the bill comes from the health care industry, it seemingly shows that the bill does not ask for enough sacrifice from other groups, such as organized labor and trial lawyers. Republicans opponents, as well as some Senate Republicans who voted in favor of the plan, said it pitted the medical industry — which pushed for a 20 percent reduction in doctor's rates — against the business community.

Eddy said that Bradley’s insistence that drastic changes had to be made by the end of the legislative session — including a threat to dismantle the system if a reform bill could not be passed — were a bluff. He called on lawmakers to take more time and work out a more comprehensive solution.

“This doesn’t have to be done now. This can be done better. It can be done right. Nothing is ‘now or never.’ We proved that in just a short period of time. That ‘this is it’ isn’t really it. It can be something else, and it can be better,” Eddy said.

Quinn has vowed to sign the bill. “The legislation approved by the General Assembly today will also achieve significant saving for the sate of Illinois, as well as attacking fraud and abuse. We have fundamentally changed our system, allowing Illinois to become more competitive and a better place to do business,” he said in a written statement.

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