Workers Compensation Reform Debate Reaches IL House FloorMay 8, 2015
A political battle over workers compensation reform in Illinois has pitted the Republican governor against the Democratic leadership of the state’s House of Representatives. In an unprecedented move, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan organized hearings for the entire House membership to hear testimony on workers compensation reform. The hearings included two representatives from the state’s manufacturing trade association, a former board member of the Indiana workers compensation program, and six injured workers.
Costs vs. Coverage Sparks Workers Compensation Reform Debate
The debate over workers compensation reform comes as Illinois seeks to prevent businesses from leaving the state, while still maintaining protections for millions of workers. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner told reporters that the state needs to lower its workers compensation insurance payments to remain competitive with neighboring states. Rep. Madigan and other Democratic leaders maintain that massive workers compensation reform efforts would limit or deny coverage to workers in need of protection.
Governor Favors Workers Compensation Reform
As part of his campaign efforts last November, Gov. Rauner promised workers compensation reform to reduce costs to businesses. He argued that lower costs would create much-needed jobs across the state. Gov. Rauner has favored modeling his vision of workers compensation reform after similar programs in Indiana. He claims that Indiana’s program gives businesses lower workers compensation insurance premiums, which lures them out of Illinois. He also alleges that workers compensation reform efforts the state made in 2011 have not delivered the intended savings on insurance premiums.
Workers Compensation Reform Efforts Draw Criticism
Experts on the Indiana systems were called to testify in the Illinois workers compensation reform. House members questioned a former member of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Indiana. They presented the board member with various scenarios and asked how the organization cared for injured workers. An injured Indiana nurse also testified on why modeling Illinois’ workers compensation reform efforts after her home state’s program would be disastrous. Laurie Summers told Illinois House members that she “would never recommend anyone to work in the state of Indiana” after her own experiences with her home state’s workers compensation program.
Injured Workers Testify in Workers Compensation Reform Hearings
Other injured workers also testified in the workers compensation reform hearings. Robert Allen, an Illinois resident, had suffered back and foot injuries during his time as an iron worker. He praised the state’s current system, saying it “allowed me to survive.” Oklahoma resident John Coffell testified that his state’s workers compensation program was so substandard, he was no longer able to afford his car, his house, or to care for his children. He warned the legislators that the proposed workers compensation reform efforts would lead to Illinois workers “who will pay the same price I did.”
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