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So-called Workers' Comp 'Reform' Sticks it to Taxpayers

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So-called Workers' Comp 'Reform' Sticks it to TaxpayersAnyone of us could be hurt on the job. It doesn’t matter if we work in an office, in a factory or on a farm, accidents happen to people in every occupation. When someone is seriously injured, the question becomes: Whose responsibility is it to pay for their care and rehabilitation so they can get back to work?

For Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, his insurance industry allies, and many businesses the unfortunate answer is that the person who was hurt and the taxpayers should pay. Under the guise of "reform" they are seeking further changes to our workers' compensation laws that shift the risk of needing to care for the injured away from insurers and that allow employers to more easily evade the responsibility for ensuring safe work sites and working conditions.

Rauner and Republican legislators want to cut the number of injured workers eligible to receive benefits and many employees, especially older workers more likely to be hurt, would receive no compensation for serious work-related injuries.

That would leave taxpayers, through Medicaid and other publicly funded programs, to cover the resulting medical bills and income support payments that are rightfully the responsibility of the employer. The governor and his insurance industry friends claim that workers' comp is too generous. In fact, it's all that's standing between the families of injured men and women and a life of poverty.

Since lawmakers rewrote the state's workers’ comp law in 2011, the insurance industry's cost of issuing policies has plummeted as a result of the reduced amount they have to pay in claims. That legislation curtailed longstanding workers' rights in an effort to reduce the cost of premiums paid by employers. The National Council on Compensation Insurance, an insurance industry trade group, has since recommended workers' comp rate cuts totaling nearly 30 percent. That guidance has been ignored.

In 2017 alone, the NCCI suggests that Illinois insurers lower workers' comp insurance premiums by 12.9 percent. This would represent the third largest drop in the nation and total more than Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin combined. But employers won't see a reduction in their premiums when the insurance industry refuses to pass the savings along.

A recent report by the Illinois Department of Insurance revealed that workers' comp insurers here saw profit jump nearly 22 points between 2010 and 2014 — from negative 11 percent to positive 11 percent — and, by the end of that period, nearly match the national average.

There are 332 insurance companies competing for and writing workers' compensation insurance in Illinois, more than any other state in the nation. We're an attractive place to do business for them because of insufficient oversight and laws that put their interests ahead of regular Illinoisans. And yet they still want more — always more.

Insurance companies are taking advantage of both workers and employers. Any further changes to Illinois' workers’ comp laws should focus on insurance reforms, not punishing injured workers to further pad insurers' profits.

— Christopher T. Hurley is president, of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.

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http://www.sj-r.com/opinion/20161130/guest-column-so-called-workers-comp-reform-sticks-it-to-taxpayers

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