MELROSE PARK -- Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said companies should see their workers' compensation premiums drop because of a new law he signed Tuesday overhauling the system that takes care of employees injured on the job.
"We're going to be helping the employers of Illinois, the workers of Illinois, all of those who are committed to economic growth by designing a law that will help our employers of Illinois reduce their premiums for workers compensation insurance by a huge amount," Quinn said at a bill-signing ceremony at a Navistar plant in the Chicago suburb of Melrose Park.
Illinois Retail Merchants Association president David Vite said changes in the business-funded insurance system that pays the medical costs of injured workers and compensates for lost wages would save companies between 10 percent and 20 percent on their workers compensation premiums. Quinn said the system also would become more efficient for injured workers.
The changes include slashing medical payments to doctors and hospitals that treat injured workers and they're estimated to cut between $500 million and $700 million out of the $3 billion workers compensation system.
But some Republican lawmakers and providers have complained about the 30 percent cut in medical fees that they say ultimately will hurt, not help, injured workers.
"We predict injured workers will wait longer for care, thus triggering higher medical care costs and delays in their return to work," Illinois State Medical Society president Dr. Wayne V. Polek said in a statement.
The overhaul also includes new guidelines for treatment an injured worker can receive and it makes it harder for workers who were drunk when they were injured to win claims. The law also lets employers organize medical networks to handle workers' compensation cases and businesses have said that can help lower costs by choosing doctors who don't cater as much to workers. The new rules also would cap awards for carpal tunnel syndrome, a common complaint.
"There's nothing good in it for injured working people," said Marc Perper, a trial lawyer and the spokesman for a political action committee mostly made up of attorneys who represent injured workers.
Perper said he's concerned about benefits caps and limiting doctor choices for injured workers. He also said he's worried some of the state's top medical specialists will stop taking workers compensation cases because of the medical fee cuts.
Quinn sought to reassure people that workers who have legitimate injury claims would be protected under the overhaul and get "proper" compensation.
"I really think this is making it a 21st century system that's fair to everyone -- to the workers and to the employers," he said. Some of the changes in the new law take effect immediately while others go into effect July 1 and Sept. 1, according to Quinn's office.
Under the law, the new arbitrators who will decide cases will serve three-year terms instead of six and will be prohibited from accepting gifts.
Business leaders said the changes passed by lawmakers were necessary.
"This system is expensive, it had gotten out of control, it wasn't being run well," said Gregory Baise, head of the Illinois Manufacturers Association.
Some Republican lawmakers complained the bill didn't go far enough to require workers to prove their injuries were work-related and not caused by activities outside their jobs. But Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said it's a start to fix what had become a "dysfunctional" system.
"Is it a perfect bill? Probably not," she said, adding that they will monitor its progress.
Others contend many more changes will be needed to prevent fraud and abuse in the system. Federal prosecutors have been investigating possible workers' compensation abuses at Illinois government agencies.
"This isn't meaningful reform," said Kim Clarke Maisch, llinois director of the National Federation of Independent Business. "It's much better public relations than it is public policy."