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Workers Compensation Changes. Are There More to Come?

Written by Ankin Law Office

In recent months, workers compensation laws have been a hot topic with Illinois lawmakers. Reform to the laws that protect employees injured on the job, and the reason for them are controversial, and it’s likely that more changes are to come. While some look at workers compensation reform as a viable way to reduce costs for the state and encourage healthy job growth, others are concerned that these changes will deny injured workers access to all of the benefits that they need to prevent devastating health and financial consequences.

Already, the overhaul is making an impact. Medical payments to injured workers have fallen below those of neighboring states like Indiana. This is due mainly to cuts in fees of 30 percent, which led to lower medical payments per claim. As the financial ramifications become clear to Illinois lawmakers, what does this mean for someone who was injured on the job?

The Arguments For and Against Workers Compensation Reform in Illinois

The arguments surrounding reforms in Illinois workers compensation reform are largely partisan. Illinois had the seventh highest workers compensation insurance rates in the United States as of January of 2014. Those pushing for further reform believe that lower rates will encourage companies to relocate to Illinois and encourage job growth.

Lawmakers fighting against reforms argue that these changes are not in the best interest of injured workers. Many contend that focusing on increased workplace safety issues might be a better use of state resources and more beneficial to preventing workplace injuries.

Significant Changes in the Law

There are several major changes to workers compensation laws in recent years that are already impacting injured employees across Illinois. Changes made from 2011 onward are now causing challenges for those seeking workers compensation benefits. Below are four significant changes to workers compensation law in Illinois:

1. Injured workers are now required to see a doctor that is approved by their employer. Workers who do not wish to see a doctor from a list provided by an employer must inform them in writing. Once an employee chooses another doctor, they are limited to that choice and cannot see another, unless referred by the original doctor. In the past, a worker could seek a second opinion.

2. Wage loss compensation changes represent another significant change in the laws. Injured workers are no longer entitled to receive two thirds of the difference for life between what was paid in an original position and a new limited one. Now, injured Illinois workers will receive compensation up until the age of 67 or five years from the date of an award, for workers age 63 or older.

3. Changes involving the use of AMA guidelines are another change to the workers compensation laws in Illinois. Physicians assessing workers compensation claimants are now required to utilize AMA guidelines, which are considered particularly strict.

4. Hand injuries face additional limitations. Injuries to the hand, including carpal tunnel cases, now require a greater level of proof in order to warrant workers compensation benefits, under the changes to the law.

Are More Changes to Come?

Changes to Illinois law are not considered by all to be worker-friendly. Some view recent and proposed changes as a way to encourage employers to seek out new ways to deny benefits to injured employees and save their company money. Insurance companies also benefit when workers compensation reform is enacted. While the risk of sustaining an injury on the job remains static, the level of treatment and available benefits has the potential to decline with each pending law reform. Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers are paying close attention to each change and what it means to those eligible for workers compensation benefits.

The Illinois budget crisis is one factor that has brought workers compensation reform to the forefront. Leaders in the political arena are calling for additional changes, so the potential that workers compensation laws will be updated further is high. As lawmakers continue to seek out new and effective ways to balance the Illinois budget, workers compensation changes will likely remain on the table.

Some states are experimenting with new cost-saving measures for employers, such as allowing companies to self-insure their workers compensation insurance and making changes to terminology surrounding causation of an injury to protect the rights of employers and insurance providers. Illinois lawmakers are considering the benefits of following suit and many in power are pushing hard for change. Not all of the changes are favorable to those injured on the job, which is why more and more local injured workers are turning to a Chicago workers compensation lawyer for legal advice and support.