Workers' Comp Reform Agreement--Death By a Thousand Knives?

Bureaucracy_iStock_000002879611XSmall1Will this be a tough pill to swallow or death by a thousand knives?

It appears that a compromise bill and amendment will affect significantly worker rights.

Essentially, this bill, which is expected to be voted on and approved shortly (although nothing is ever certain in Sprinfield), would reduce an injured worker's choice of doctors to one, down from the present two. This gives employers much more choice in the process and if employers choose their doctors and clinics, once has to assume many workers will be sent back to work sooner than they should return. In essence, employers can now establish PPO-like systems and more or less "force" injured employees to use those doctors or "waste" their choice of physician on a doctor of their choice.

Another significant detail of the proposal is a cap on carpal tunnel recoveries, with both the total number of weeks available and the total percentage of loss of use reduced and capped, big changes on how bills are paid, changes to the way TTD is calculated.

The introduction of AMA Guidelines to the process will basically make these the basis for determinations of disability. While this may sound professional, certain, and reasonable, Illinois workers can expect this to reduce the value of their injuries by as much as 50% according to some estimates.

The Utilization Reviews that are proposed codifies some of what has been happening already. It allows these but also requires the doctors who perform them to be subject to deposition at employer's cost. This is a difficult pill to swallow for workers, as it basically lets employers and insurers find "their" doctors to opine (often without ever seeing the injured party) on an injured person's status and allowing this opinion to be admitted presumptively before the arbitrator at the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission.

Other changes address conduct and qualifications of arbitrators, as well as ethics and lengh of terms, billing practices, ethics, collective bargaining issues, among others.

To many of us who represent workers, this feels like death by a thousand knives. Only time will tell if this incremental change is better or worse than the oft-threatened blowing up of the system.

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