Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., May 8, 9 or 10, 2017
Meanwhile, in Springfield, a Democratic-backed measure to reform Illinois’ Workers Compensation system was approved by the House of Representatives on April 27, but a lack of GOP support seemed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that it has as much chance to get signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner as people facing a herd of black Angus cattle running at them.
That’s disappointing, but truly depressing is seeing some sensible Republicans heel to the cries of the state Chamber of Commerce and other powerful lobbies instead of seeing the effort as a positive step in addressing business costs.
Introduced by Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville), the reforms in HB 2525 include workers’ compensation insurance rate regulation by the Department of Insurance, providing employers with a compensation insurance rate reduction if they have a bona fide safety and return-to-work program and penalties on employers when they don’t authorize medical treatment for injured workers, and – most interesting – establishing a task force to possibly create a nonprofit workers’ comp insurance outfit to compete with insurers in providing coverage to employers.
The roots are traced to 2011, when workers comp reforms passed to include the National Council on Compensation Insurance recommendation to cut costs 30 percent over five years.
“This reduced medical-related costs, but these savings that insurance companies see have not been passed on to employers and instead have been used to pad the profits of big insurance companies,” says 2525 co-sponsor State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch of Westchester. “One of the concerns that I hear from businesses in my district and throughout the state is that workers' compensation insurance is too expensive. This legislation creates a process for rate review.”
Illinois doesn’t strongly regulate workers’ comp insurance premiums (like some states do), so insurers just pocketed the savings, advocates say.
If passed in the Senate and somehow overriding Rauner’s inevitable veto, 2525 also would require greater transparency for “self-insured” companies such as Deere & Co., Niemann Foods, and OSF Healthcare Systems to disclose actual financial losses they claim because of job-related injuries.
“This will result in a free market for workers’ compensation insurance,” said the Illinois AFL-CIO, “bringing prices down, saving employers money, and reinvesting that money back into Illinois and its workers.”
Also co-sponsored by Democratic State Reps. Katie Stuart of Collinsville and Elgie Sims Jr. of Chicago, 2525 would provide “that a rate is excessive if it is likely to produce a long-run profit that is unreasonably high for the insurance provided or if expenses are unreasonably high in relation to the services rendered,” its synopsis says.
Welch adds, “Any changes that are made to the workers' compensation system need to be done in a way to protect workers, which is why I believe this is the correct course of action. I will not support Gov. Rauner's proposed reforms that will make it harder for workers to get the assistance they need if they are injured on the job.”
The bill sought bipartisan support by addressing a long-time GOP complaint: liability for injuries not on the job by providing “that accidental injuries sustained while traveling to or from work do not arise out of and in the course of employment.”
That didn’t matter to the Illinois Manufacturers Association, the American Insurance Association and their ilk. They oppose the bill, so Republican lawmakers heard those lobbies’ voices and fell into line, accepting the illogical criticism that new competition would be “interference with open competition.”
So, likeable, intelligent and sometimes cooperative downstate Representative such as Tim Butler, Ryan Spain and Mike Unes went along with the herd, stampeded by Big Business.
And Rauner offers no more hope here than with the state budget or adequate funding of education.
“If the past is any indication, he is going to side with big corporations over hard-working Illinoisans,” Welch says. “Regardless of what the Governor decides to do with each piece of legislation that he is sent, I believe that legislators have a responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the people we serve and that is why I am proud to support this legislation.”
[PICTURED: David Horsey editorial cartoon from the Los Angeles Times.]