Senate Approves Worker's Compensation Reform

A separate bill would do away with system altogether

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    panoramio.com / fish667

    A bill shaking up the Illinois workers' compensation system to cut business costs and curb corruption has been approved by the state Senate.

    It passed 46-8 and now goes to the Illinois House.

    "This reform package is the single most important thing we can do to improve our business climate and ensure our economic recovery continues," said Illinois Senate President John Cullerton in a statement.

    The bill -- HB1698 -- would reduce fees businesses pay to physicians by 30 percent, saving between $500 million and $700 million. It also strengthens medical treatment oversight, creates a medical network for workers' comp claims and caps awards for carpal tunnel syndrome.

    It also terminates all system arbitrators over fears they have gotten too "cozy" with lawyers. They could be reappointed to new, shorter terms.

    Proponents said it will save businesses money. Opponents said it will make it harder to practice medicine in Illinois.

    A separate bill that would completely abolish the system passed the Illinois House on Friday with a vote of 65-48.

    "We have two viable options now,'' said Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion), who sponsored both bills. "I think this bill could become law."

    He said he doesn't know which option he prefers, but many legislators said they think the bill -- SB1933 -- is merely a tactic to force agreement on the Senate bill."

    "Those individuals have to realize that if they're not willing to come to some kind of compromise and work through their problems, maybe you can't fix it,'' said Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville. "So I think this is designed to create pressure."

    Gutting the system would fundamentally change workers' compensation to a system requiring proof of fault. In the current system, workers forfeit their right to sue employers for workplace injuries in exchange for receiving payments from an employer insurance fund during disability.

    Going through the circuit courts opens up claims cases to jury trials that could award pricey payouts to workers for pain and suffering or loss of normal life damages.

    Matt Belcher, a lawyer with Working Forward Political Action Committee, said small claims cases would be more difficult as well because the burden of proof would rest with the worker. That means lawyers would be less likely to take those cases.

    "That system is expensive," Belcher said. "And smaller injuries will be less likely to be pursued because of the cost involved in litigation."