Under the guise of “reform,” Gov. Bruce Rauner is seeking changes to our workers’ compensation laws that will shift the responsibility of caring for injured workers away from insurers and onto those hurt on the job and the taxpayers. The governor and his insurance industry allies want to cut the number of injured workers eligible to receive benefits. Many employees, especially older workers, will face the prospect of losing the right to compensation because Rauner would let insurers avoid responsibility for serious work-related injuries by blaming a worker’s physical decline even when that physical decline is a result of a harsh work place.
The benefit cuts long sought by Rauner would create a disincentive for employers to ensure safe worksites and working conditions, as a cost-benefit analysis might show that it is less expensive to pay for injuries than to spend the funds needed to prevent accidents from happening in the first place.
Since lawmakers rewrote the state’s workers’ compensation laws in 2011, Illinois has led the nation in cost reduction for workers’ compensation in all of the relevant categories of cost measurement trends. According to the latest report from the non-profit, non-partisan National Academy of Social Insurance, total benefits paid in Illinois dropped 19.3 percent between 2011 and 2015, while the rest of the U.S. saw 2 percent cost increases during this same period.
What didn’t happen, and where the real problem lies, is that insurers did not pass those cost savings on to Illinois businesses. Instead, they kept the money as more profit for themselves.
There are 332 insurance companies that write workers’ compensation policies in Illinois, which is more than in any other state. Illinois is desirable for these companies because there is little oversight and favorable laws that put their interests ahead of severely injured workers and their employers.
If there are to be any further changes to the state’s workers’ compensation laws, they must focus on insurance companies and the unjust premiums they charge business owners. Further reducing benefits for injured workers, lowering medical reimbursements and denying claims will only pad the insurance industry’s profits while unfairly shifting the cost of caring for those hurt on the job onto the backs of the injured workers themselves and to taxpayers through Medicaid and other publicly funded programs – something Illinois taxpayers cannot afford.