The following letter to the editor by ITLA President Christopher T. Hurley appeared in the Decatur Herald-Review on February 24, 2018.
Gov. Bruce Rauner used his budget address to again call for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system, but he missed a chance to condemn the real problem with that system: insurance company profiteering. The insurance companies have exploited insufficient oversight and, since a 2011 rewrite of state law, have taken most of the savings for themselves as profits, rather than passing along their reduced cost of doing business to employers.
According to a report last year from the governor’s Department of Insurance, workers’ comp insurers saw profits jump nearly 22 points between 2010 and 2014, from negative 11 percent to positive 11 percent, while between 2011 and 2015 they reduced their financial payouts on claims to below the national average.
The governor wants Illinois to mimic Massachusetts. But following its lead would cost our state’s taxpayers. Massachusetts doctors who care for those injured on the job are the lowest paid in the nation, which raises concerns about access to quality care. If Illinois further reduces the rate doctors are compensated to treat injured workers to match Massachusetts’ levels, a patient’s choice of physicians will be seriously limited and wait times for treatment are sure to rise significantly.
Cutting benefits, lowering medical reimbursements and denying claims from injured workers will serve only to pad insurance industry’s profits. Taxpayers, through Medicaid and other publicly funded programs, would be saddled with the responsibility for the resulting medical bills and income support payments. Such a race-to-the-bottom with lower-income states will leave everyone, except insurers, worse off.
Legislative efforts concerning workers’ comp should focus not on further eroding the rights of the injured, but on improving workplace safety and oversight of workers’ comp insurers.
Christopher T. Hurley
President, Illinois Trial Lawyers Association