Illinois Workers Compensation reform was a major issue during this year’s Spring legislative session. As of the Sunday before the final day, the bill appeared to have failed, resulting in no changes. But alas, Illinois House legislators worked hard to pass the bill and move forward to Governor Quinn for his signature. The Chicago Sun times provided an excellent description of how the bill was passed, which can be read here.
As an Illinois Workers Compensation attorney that represents Petitioner employees, I first have to ask whether the changes stripped away any rights and protections for Illinois workers. The short answer is yes. Below are the major changes and how they will affect Illinois workers. My thoughts are in italics.
The changes to this section of the Act involve wage differential claims. The previous law stated that when an employee returns to work with a lower average weekly wage than the wage held prior to being injured, the worker would be entitled to receive 2/3 of the difference between the two wages every week for the rest of his or her life. The new law states that wage differential claims that occur after September 1, 2011 shall be effective only until the employee reaches the age of 67 or five years from the date the award becomes final, whichever is later.
The new law definitely strips the award potential for Illinois workers, but, in my opinion, this is a not a major blow the rights of Illinois workers. The law still allows for the same award, but it is limited basically to a worker’s retirement age. I would have preferred not to see this change, but it is not a drastic change.
The new law makes specific changes to hand injuries involving carpal tunnel syndrome due to repetitive or cumulative trauma. The new law states that the value of the hand be returned to their pre-2005 scheduled amount of 190 weeks, and places a disability limit of 15% loss of use of the hand in such cases, unless clear and convincing evidence can show an award should exceed this amount. In such cases the award should not exceed 30% loss of use of the hand.
Apparently lawmaker and the insurance company lobbyists believed there was excessive fraud when it came to carpal tunnel syndrome cases. I could not disagree with this change more, but, it must be remembered, that the new law does not eliminate carpal tunnel or repetitive trauma claims, it merely limits them to 15% of the hand and decreases the number of weeks a hand is worth down to 190. The interesting question here is what will qualify as clear and convincing evidence when determining whether and injured hand is worth more than 15%. I would imagine that there is clear and convincing evidence when more than one surgery is performed on the hand and the medical testimony clearly connects all treatment to the work injury. If this is the case, I have to believe that the arbitrators will find that the injury is worth more than 15%. This is one area of the new law to keep a close eye on.
The new law contains medical fee schedule modifications. The new law states that if a fee schedule amount is in place, effective September 1, 2011, the charge shall be no more than 70% of the fee scheduled amount. If a fee schedule amount cannot be determined, the default reimbursement shall remain at 76% until September 1, 2011 at which time a 53.2% reimbursement rate shall apply.
Above is just a very brief synopsis, but this is probably the biggest amount of reform in the Act. It basically means that the treating doctors will receive less money pursuant to the new fee schedules. On its’ face, this change does not directly affect Illinois workers or take away any of their rights. Although, one could argue that, due to the lower fee schedules, fewer doctors will be taking workers compensation patients because they do not want to take lower fees. This could possibly lead to a smaller pool of doctors to choose from an ultimately impact the type and/or quality of treatment workers receive . It is too early to tell at this point whether this will affect quality of treatment but it is something to follow.
There were many other changes to the Act, but these are the main ones I wanted to point out and discuss. I am not pleased with any changes that strip away workers compensation rights for my clients, but, all in all, it could have been worse, and sometimes you have to compromise with the other side of the aisle.
If you or someone you love has been involved in an Illinois work accident or needs help on their Illinois workers compensation claim, then call Chicago workers comp attorney, Aaron Bryant, for a free consultation at 312-588-3384.