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Why Opt-Out Plans Lead to Workers’ Compensation Struggles

Written by Ankin Law Office

Workers’ compensation reform has been a serious topic of debate in Chicago, in recent months. As Illinois state legislators continue to discuss ways to save money, workers are concerned about how these changes could affect them.

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Workers' compensation struggles infographic

Over the past ten years, states across the nation have been making significant changes to America’s workers’ comp system, and these changes have had a profound effect on employees. The unfortunate outcome of much of this reform is that Chicago workers can find themselves facing economic hardship after a workplace injury. Workers frequently end up fighting to have their basic medical needs met.

Workers’ Comp Reforms in Illinois

Those that argue for workers’ comp reform in Illinois, say that it will save the state and businesses money. This would, in turn, encourage businesses to relocate to Illinois and benefit all residents.>

Illinois is not the only state that is trying out this tactic. Thirty three states have passed workers’ comp laws since 2003, which make it more difficult for many workers to receive benefits. In some states, this mean the development of an opt-out system.

The Dangers of Opt-Out Systems

At present, the law in Illinois does not allow employers to opt-out of the workers’ comp system, however, this may not always be the case. Both Oklahoma and Texas employers are now allowed to develop their own workers’ compensation plans, and this has had disastrous consequences for employees in these states.

While less expensive for employers, these plans generally cover the cost for fewer injuries and pay benefits for a limited period of time. Employer developed plans also frequently control access to medical professionals and facilities, making it more difficult for employees to be diagnosed and properly treated. Services such as wheelchair vans and alternative therapies are generally not covered and appeals are often controlled by the employer’s attorneys.

A recent investigation of these plans by NPR and ProPublica showed that these plans typically cover just two years of benefits, while plans in states like Illinois cover costs indefinitely. In Oklahoma, many plans actually violate the law, but regulators are not often in a place where they can do much about this.

As Illinois moves forward with workers’ comp reforms, many Chicago employees are left wondering about their rights. As additional pro-business proposals become law in Illinois, workers’ compensation attorneys believe that workers’ and their families will bear a greater financial burden following a workplace injury.