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Illinois lawmakers’ proposed changes to workers’ comp will hurt workers

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Major changes may soon take place in the Illinois system of workers’ compensation. The state’s program of benefits has enjoyed long-term success as one of the most comprehensive systems of its kind in the country, as Crystal Lake workers’ compensation lawyers are aware. The program is now under attack from legislators who plan to cut benefits and reduce eligibility for compensation.

Advocates of the changes have argued that the existing system is too expensive for businesses, driving commerce out of Illinois and into neighboring states. Worker advocates have replied that the proposed changes will cause serious harm to people who are already living with the consequences of major injuries and unsafe conditions on the job.

Who is affected by the proposed reforms?

These proposed reforms affect all employees in the state of Illinois. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than half of American workers will suffer an accident on the job that is severe enough to require medical care. Many people are temporarily or permanently disabled after a work accident. Proposed cuts to workers’ compensation will dismantle the safety net that injured workers need to rebuild their lives.

Who is proposing the reforms?

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is the mastermind behind the proposed workers’ compensation reforms. The Republican governor has pointed to the high cost of workers’ compensation insurance for many Illinois businesses, arguing that it is harmful to small business owners and locally owned industries. He has also remarked on the presence of corruption and fraud in some cases. His proposed solution is to make sweeping cuts in the existing system of workers’ compensation.

What would the reforms entail?

Rauner’s suggested reforms would affect a wide range of practices in the workers’ compensation system. Employees would have to face tougher standards to prove that an injury or illness is exclusively work-related. Doctors would receive lower reimbursements for treating patients within the workers’ compensation system. Many injured employees would be in danger of falling through the cracks and not receiving the benefits and medical care they need.

According to the most recent handbook issued by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, approximately 250,000 Illinois workers each year report an injury in the workplace. About one out of four injured workers will eventually file a claim with the IWCC. More than 90 percent of those cases are successfully settled in favor of the employee. Rauner’s reforms aim to decrease that percentage of successful awards.

The reforms would also penalize doctors who treat injured workers. Automatic limits on expenses for medical care will cut options both for disabled employees and for medical professionals. In some cases, people may not be able to obtain proper treatment after an injury on the job.

Arguments against new reform

Illinois workers’ compensation law was most recently reformed during 2011, when costs were cut and multiple sources of corruption were removed. Worker advocates argue that these existing reforms must be given time to work before additional cuts are made to the system. Fraud and corruption can be addressed without harming legitimate claims made by workers who are genuinely unable to continue on the job after suffering a traumatic injury. Rauner’s reforms would make the majority of injured workers suffer because of a small number of people who abuse the system.

Healthy workers are good for business

Business advocates are worried about the ongoing impact of workers’ compensation costs on the state of commerce in Illinois. If the system of compensation is slashed, it is likely to hurt rather than help local business. When workers are healthier, they are more efficient and more reliable, as all Crystal Lake workers’ compensation lawyers know. Worker advocates argue that the long-term costs of poor coverage outweigh the short-term savings of the proposed reforms.

Healthy workers are good for the economy

In today’s perilous economic climate, healthy workers are one of the greatest assets available to any region or business. When workers have a robust safety net in case of job-related injury or illness, they become more productive members of the local economy. They also require less long-term care and less costly medical treatment.

Many injured workers are at risk of poverty if they are unable to recover lost pay and medical expenses after a serious accident. A disabled worker in an Illinois auto plant may be at risk of job termination and loss of health insurance if Rauner’s proposed reforms go through. When the worker is unable to pay for his or her own medical care through work-related benefits, the burden is shifted to taxpayers. The economy is stronger in the long run when businesses absorb this cost through proper workers’ compensation coverage.

Working together for safer job sites

Safety on the job has been steadily improving in America over the past decades. According to statistics collected by OSHA, the annual rate of injuries in the workplace has plummeted from more than 10 incidents per 100 workers during the 1970s to only 3.3 incidents per 100 workers in the most recent survey taken during 2013. This trend is encouraged by strong safety training, education and proper benefits. When workers know that their employers are concerned for their safety, they respond with safer behavior. Slashing workers’ compensation would undermine this trust and harm employees.

Many Illinois workers have their eyes on the state legislature as lawmakers consider widespread changes to the workers’ compensation system. All employees can benefit from learning about their rights. Consider speaking with Crystal Lake workers’ compensation lawyers to discuss the issues.

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