In his 2005 State of the State speech, Gov. Blagojevich called for an agreed bill process to be undertaken to achieve revisions in the state’s workers’ compensation laws. After months of discussion and negotiating, the compromise legislation, HB 2137, was crafted. Involved in the process were representatives of employers, unions, legislative leaders, the Workers Compensation Commission, and the governor’s office.
The four main objectives of the legislation involved reducing costs for employers, adjusting benefits for workers, addressing the benefit delivery system, and introducing a means to combat fraud.
While the bill didn’t address all of the reforms necessary, it appears to be a positive step as a whole. Most sides think the bill represents a balanced portfolio of benefit increases and cost reductions. Employers feel this was the best deal they could get in this political atmosphere.
Some of the details of the legislation include:
• Ensuring prompt payment for medical providers by allowing 1 percent interest per month after 60 days on unpaid medical bills.
• Prohibiting a medical provider from billing an injured worker for charges not paid by insurance while the claim is pending.
• Creating a third commission panel to expedite resolution of disputed claims and emergency hearings.
• Simplifying procedures for introduction of medical records into evidence, allowing for faster and less costly resolution of disputes.
• Defining maintenance and temporary partial disability benefits to encourage an earlier return to work.
• Providing for timely and accurate collection of claims paid data by the State Division of Insurance.
• The Rate Adjustment Fund tax is increased to 1 percent of disability claims to return the fund to solvency in 10 years. The fund is eventually phased-out, and cost of living adjustments will become the responsibility of the employer.
• Penalties for unreasonable delay of workers’ comp benefits are increased to $30 per day, with the maximum increased to $10,000.
• Increasing the minimum benefit for a worker killed on the job to the greater of $500,000 or 25 years.
• Protecting low-wage workers and tying the minimum temporary total disability and permanent partial disability rates to the Illinois Minimum Wage for a 40-hour week.
• Increases the number of weeks by 7 1/2 percent for loss of use of scheduled body parts and disfigurement.
• Providing for utilization review of proposed or provided medical treatment to ensure the treatment is reasonable and necessary.
• Allowing Illinois employers to avail themselves of statutory provisions to control medical costs for workers’ compensation.
• Creating a medical fee schedule indexed to the Consumer Price Index, a savings for businesses.
• Establishing a workers’ compensation fraud statute. An investigation unit in the Division of Insurance is created to investigate charges of workers’ comp fraud by employees and employers.
• Providing civil liabilities for persons who knowingly and fraudulently attempt to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. IBI