This summer Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed workers’ compensation reform into law, and several of the measures will go into effect this September. The goals of the reform were to cut costs, help employers and jump-start the economy. If the new reforms do accomplish any of these goals, however, they seem to do so on the backs of injured workers in Illinois.
Doctors and hospitals treating injured workers will see the fees they receive slashed by 30 percent. According to the Illinois State Medical Society, reducing the reimbursements to this degree may result in fewer doctors being willing to treat injured workers, especially top medical specialists. Injured workers may have to wait longer for care, ultimately delaying their return to work.
The reforms also allow for employers to set up preferred provider networks, PPNs (also known as preferred provider programs PPPs). Employees are allowed two selections of doctors within the PPN but are forced to give up one of those choices if they opt-out of the employer network. Not only does this deprive injured workers of their freedom to choose their own doctors, but it also allows employers to select physicians who may keep costs lower by providing minimal treatment and allowing workers to return to work sooner.
The reformed law will use the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (AMA guidelines) to make determinations of permanent partial disabilities. Although the AMA guidelines are used in several states, there is widespread concern that errors are frequently made in their application. Incorrect assessments can lead to injured workers not receiving the compensation they are entitled to.
Yet another change is the establishment of a collective bargaining pilot program. Such a program allows for workers’ rights to be further negotiated away, as employers may entirely opt-out of the state system. Collectively bargained agreements may require the use of certain medical providers and alternative dispute resolution processes for workers’ compensation claims.
While businesses are pleased with the changes, many fear that injured workers will suffer. The enactment of these reforms makes it all the more important that injured workers have the assistance of a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney to represent their interests and advocate on their behalf.