2011 is the one hundredth anniversary of the first U.S. Workers Comp statutes being enacted (first in Wisconsin, then elsewhere in fairly quick succession over the following years.) So it seems timely that, this year, significant Workers Comp reforms were enacted into law here in Illinois. While these changes were not all that some business groups wanted, they should have some noticeable impact on rates and premiums.
The biggest impact will likely be from the 30% reduction in the medical fee schedule.
The new law also introduces AMA guidelines for the first time in Illinois, for use in determining the degree of impairment of injured workers. It also allows for the use of PPOs in Workers Comp, although workers can still opt out of such networks and obtain care from a doctor of their own choosing.
The new law also tightens up limitations on benefits when alcohol or drugs are involved--shifting the burden of proof to the worker, applying a blood alcohol limit of .08 and a zero tolerance for illicit drugs. But the language of the law is that such intoxication must be the "sole cause" of the injury in order for WC benefits to be ruled out.
The reforms also reduce the amount of time paid for carpal tunnel injuries, and strengthens the use of Utilization Reviews.
One thing the new law does not do, to the frustration of some in the business community, is require that workers prove that an injury or illness was caused by work. In my own view, that might well have been a bit too much, as it would have likely caused some legitimately injured workers to be denied benefits if they could not conclusively prove the injury occurred at work.
All in all, these reforms represent a significant improvement for Illinois employers, while not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Now if only someone would consider some of the Workers Comp insurance reforms that I advocated for--but everyone in Springfield was focused on fighting over benefit levels, so the insurance industry got to avoid having some of their practices reined in.