On June 28, 2011, Governor Quinn signed legislation making significant changes to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. For working men and women injured on the job in Illinois and the medical providers who help them, this new law makes life even more difficult.
No rights were gained for injured workers and many were lost. The following is a partial summary of some of the changes that have been made. You will note that this is only a partial summary I have prepared for my clients giving them listing some of the changes that have been made. For additional details, please feel free to contact me or see the draft summary that I previously posted.
Some of the significant changes are as follows:
- One of the most unfair and significant changes affecting workers in Southern Illinois is the section of the legislation that requires three arbitrators be assigned to a single hearing site and that cases must be randomly assigned to each arbitrator. Arbitrators may not serve more than two years at any single hearing site. This is provision applies only to counties outside of Cook County. Under this change, an injured worker will not know which arbitrator will be available at any given month to conduct trials. By reducing the number of downstate hearing sites, injured workers will have to travel further to attend hearings and their cases may not even proceed to trial, even if a specific trial date has been requested. This will do nothing more than encourage workers’ compensation carriers to further delay payments of benefits since it is unlikely that the injured worker will actually be able to obtain an award at the time the case is set for trial. According to the Chairman of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, the legislators did not consult with the Commission, nor would they take into consideration any of the input from the Commission concerning this change. For those workers who encounter difficulties getting their cases to trial, I urge them to contact Representative John Bradley of Marion, Illinois who sponsored this legislation and request it be changed back to the way it was.
- An employer may provide its workers with a preferred provider network of medical professionals for treatment of work-related injuries. If this is done, the employee only has one other choice of a physician and subsequent chain of referral. I expect that many employers may utilize this option to control the injured worker’s course of medical treatment.
- For injuries sustained on or after September 1, 2011 where the injury prevents the worker from returning to his or her usual and customary line of employment, the wage differential payment is limited to age 67 or five years from the date the award becomes final, whichever is later.
- If the employee’s injury is carpal tunnel syndrome caused by repetitive trauma, the permanency award shall not exceed 15% loss of use of the hand, except where there is clear and convincing evidence that the injury is much more disabling. In such circumstances, the Commission may award up to 30% loss of use of the hand. The total loss of the use of the hand is limited now to 190 weeks of compensation – which represented the total weeks of compensation for loss of use of a hand before 2006.
- For injuries that occur on or after September 1, 2011, the determination of permanent partial disability shall be established by using the following criteria: The American Medical Association Guides To Permanent Impairment, the occupation of the employee, the age of the employee, the employee’s future earning capacity, and the evidence of disability corroborated in medical records. The AMA Guidelines are very conservative and many physicians do not agree with their disability ratings. In fact, some medical conditions are not even recognized under the AMA Guidelines. These guidelines have been used in other states to help limit employees’ rights to compensation.
- Payment of medical, hospital, and surgical expenses will be reduced by 30% from the current fee schedule. This is going to greatly impact the ability of injured workers to receive medical treatment that they need from quality physicians. It will make it economically difficult for physicians to continue to see and treat injured workers in light of this reduction in payment of bills.
- The employer / insurance company may use a utilization review of the injured worker’s medical treatment and if the utilization review denies or does not authorize the treatment recommended by the treating doctor, the employee has the burden of proof to show a variance from the standards of care used in the utilization review and the variation is reasonably required to cure or relieve the effects of the injury.
- All arbitrators are terminated effective July 1, 2011 and will be replaced by the Governor’s appointees.