Quinn inks workers’ comp, critics still unimpressed
By Benjamin Yount Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — Even before Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn could finish his statewide victory lap, critics were predicting problems from the state’s new workers’ compensation reforms.
Quinn said the reforms he signed Tuesday will lower costs for businesses and improve the state’s business climate. He touted the new law at stops in Chicago, Rockford, Champaign and southern Illinois.
The reforms create an entirely new system for handling workers’ compensation cases. The governor will appoint new arbitrators, state employees who hear workers’ compensation cases, for no more than three years. Employers now can send injured workers to one doctor instead of two. Doctor’s fees are slashed by 30 percent, and the number of weeks workers can collect compensation for certain injuries is reduced.
The governor and business leaders say the new reforms could save employers $500 million or more.
But critics, including workers’ compensation attorney Jim Nawrocki, say the reforms are too business friendly and won’t work. Nawrocki specializes in workers’ compensation claims for the Chicago firm of Goldman, Weisman and Cairo, one of the largest workers’ compensation firms in Illinois, but he handles cases statewide.
Nawrocki said the arbitration process could be filled with “political appointees and hacks,” who will not be able to handle the complexities of workers’ compensation cases.
“I know that the whole purpose of (these reforms) was to make things easier, cheaper and faster,” said Nawrocki. “But I think what’s going to end up happening is there is going to be a lot more litigation” when workers appeal their arbitration decisions in circuit court.
Quinn said the new law will cut costs for companies that have been paying some of the highest workers’ compensation rates in the country. Illinois businesses could see their workers’ compensation insurance premiums drops by nearly 15 percent.
Quinn said he expects to see companies stay in Illinois and add new workers as a result of the reforms.
“There’s no better way to help people than with a J-O-B,” said Quinn. “(And) we’re going to be helping the employers of Illinois, the workers of Illinois, all of those who are committed to economic growth.”
David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which represents stores and shops across the state, agreed. Illinois’ retailers were among some of the biggest supporters of the new reforms.
“While there may be critics, this clearly moves reform significantly down the road and sends the message that Illinois is serious about economic development,” said Vite.
The lower workers’ compensation insurance rates will result from the 30-percent cut in doctor’s fees, which could undermine medical care for injured workers, said Dr. Wayne Polek, president of Illinois State Medical Society.
“We predict injured workers will wait longer for care, thus triggering higher medical care costs and delays in their return to work,” said Polek.
But Tino Oldani, president and CEO of Ingersoll Machine Tools, which develops advanced machine tools for heavy industries, said the new reforms could have a different effect on his medical costs and his workers.
“Ingersoll (now can) balance between ensuring that injured employees receive the necessary care while allowing the company to manage their medical expenses,” said Oldani. “This needed reform helps Illinois manufacturers compete in the global marketplace.”
The new reforms go into effect July 1, but some aspects of the new law make take a few months to implement, such as finding and confirming new arbitrators.
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