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Illinois House ‘blows up’ workers’ compensation system

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SPRINGFIELD — After months of talk about workers' compensation reform, the Illinois House finally pulled the trigger on the state's workers' compensation system. And the Senate now has two plans from which to choose.

By Melissa Leu

SPRINGFIELD — After months of talk about workers' compensation reform, the Illinois House finally pulled the trigger on the state's workers' compensation system. And the Senate now has two plans from which to choose.

The state House voted Friday to pass a measure that would dismantle the state's workers' compensation system. Sponsored by state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, Senate Bill 1933 was sent back to the Senate for concurrence on a 65-48 vote.

Bradley said his measure adds a second viable option to another workers' compensation proposal in the Senate. That plan, House Bill 1698, is supported by Gov. Pat Quinn and is being pushed by Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago.

"Either one of those could become law in the state of Illinois and either one … provide significant reform to a broken system … the workers' compensation system," Bradley said.

The measure would repeal the state's Workers' Compensation Act and the Workers' Occupational Diseases Act, and send the state's nearly 50,000 cases to be decided in circuit courts.

The state also would save between $500 million and $700 million, Bradley said.

State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Highland, said the proposal was more than an option — it was a "viable threat."

"We can't do nothing. The (only) option is we go right back to work, we go right back to negotiating … (that) we put in reasonable, real reform," McCarter said.

McCarter's complaints echo those of opponents who claim that the plan to "blow up" the workers' compensation system is actually a political ploy to get them to agree to a weaker set of reforms in Raoul's plan.

"I think it is an intriguing move in the ongoing legislative chess game that elected officials play on major public policy issues as if there were no consequences," said Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Under Raoul's plan, doctors would be paid 30 percent less for those filing workers' compensation claims and reduce the amount of time workers can receive the maximum benefit of 66.5 percent of their average weekly salary.

Howard Peters, a lobbyist with the Illinois Hospital Association, said reducing physician pay by 30 percent is unfair. The hospital and health system advocacy group would rather see a smaller cut between 15 percent and 20 percent.

"If you don't pay a reasonable amount, the more skilled surgeons, the more skilled physicians will not participate (and) can't afford to participate, so it has a real disadvantage to injured workers," Peters said.

Whitley said lawmakers can't please everyone, but completely destroying a system that can be fixed is not the answer.

"Blowing up the worker's compensation as Rep. Bradley is proposing would create chaos in the state and would send the wrong signal to everyone outside the state of Illinois," Whitley said. "It basically says our political leaders cannot adequately deal with critical public policy issues like fixing workers' compensation and improving the economic jobs climate in their state."

The state's Chamber of Commerce officially is neutral on Raoul's plan, saying it doesn't go far enough.

"If we support (HB 1698) than it would give the impression that we fixed workers' comp. And we don't think that's true," Whitley said.

Raoul expects to call his measure Saturday.

Either way, he said, "I'll have two options."

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