Workers compensation system on brink of collapse | Don Brunell

In Illinois, the workers’ comp system is so out-of-control that Democratic state Rep. John Bradley introduced legislation to abolish it and put workers' compensation cases in the state's circuit courts.

In Illinois, the workers’ comp system is so out-of-control that Democratic state Rep. John Bradley introduced legislation to abolish it and put workers’ compensation cases in the state’s circuit courts.

Workers’ comp was established nearly a century ago as a no-fault insurance system so workers and employers would not have to go to court. However, without major reforms, it is certain to collapse because of rapidly escalating costs and premiums charged to employers.

In Springfield, lawmakers, unions, doctors, business owners and trial lawyers have been trying unsuccessfully to reform the system because its high costs are hurting job growth for public, non-profit and private employers.

Bradley says Illinois businesses are paying about $3 billion a year for an outdated system that awards payments without confirming that the workers were injured on the job. In fact, federal authorities have launched an investigation into Illinois’ program following media reports that 389 employees at the Menard Correctional Center received almost $10 million in workers’ compensation awards, including more than 200 prison guards who said they suffered carpal tunnel injuries from locking and unlocking cell doors.

But what really sent lawmakers over the edge in Springfield was the case of state trooper Matt Mitchell who was driving 126 mph and talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone when he lost control of his squad car, crossed the median and struck an oncoming car, killing two teenage sisters and injuring a man and a pregnant woman in a third car.  Mitchell, who received probation after pleading guilty to reckless homicide, filed a workers’ compensation claim for injuries he received in the crash.

Workers’ comp is not just an “Illinois problem,” it’s a national problem.

Workers’ compensation insurance system is designed to prevent workplace injuries and deaths, treat injured workers quickly and effectively and settle disputed claims without going to court. But Washington has one of the most generous workers’ comp systems in the nation, and the resulting high costs are crippling employers struggling to emerge from the recession.

According to the Washington Department of Labor & Industries, injured workers in Washington are off the job an average of nine months, over twice the national average. Washington also leads the nation in the number of expensive, lifelong pensions awarded each year.

To address that problem, the Senate approved a bill allowing injured workers to voluntarily choose one-time settlements instead of lifetime pensions. The measure includes a 12-week “cooling off” period following an injury to ensure that workers make an informed, unpressured decision and proposed settlements must be approved by the state Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. Voluntary settlements are working in 44 other states, including Oregon, which has not raised its workers’ comp premium in more than 20 years.

Gary Weeks, the former director of Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries, was the director of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor & Industries when voluntary settlements were implemented there in 1990.  In a recent letter to House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, Weeks said, “I know from experience what has worked and what can benefit both workers and business.”

Nonetheless, the bill is stuck in a House committee where Chopp has not allowed the bill to come to the floor for a vote despite the fact that it received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate, passing by a 34-15 vote.

The state auditor predicts that, without reform, our workers’ compensation program will collapse into bankruptcy within five years. By opposing the voluntary settlement option, labor leaders and their legislative allies are saying they don’t want injured workers to have a choice — even if it means double-digit rate increases for employers and the eventual collapse of the workers’ comp system.

Wouldn’t it be better to make the needed reform now before the situation becomes so drastic that lawmakers introduce legislation to toss it out completely?

There is still time for Gov. Gregoire, Speaker Chopp and House Democrats to act and avert an Illinois meltdown.

 

 

[flipp]

More in Business

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon and Page Carson Foster. Photo credit Washington State Legislative Support Services
Carson Foster serves as page in Washington State House

The following was submitted to the Reporter: Carson Foster, a student at… Continue reading

Microsoft has expanded their AccountGuard service to 12 new European Countries. Yellow: European countries already protected. Blue: European countries now protected. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Microsoft warns of hacking ahead of elections

Launching defense services in Europe.

Praerit Garg joins Smartsheet as CTO

Bellevue-based company employs 760 people

OfferUp founder Nick Huzar makes customer safety a core pillar

Bellevue-based CEO wanted a simpler solution to his own problems

Photo by Tiffany Von Arnim/Flickr
Puget Sound companies join to create middle-income housing

Several are the same companies that opposed Seattle’s head tax last year.

Washington to begin collecting sales tax from out-of-state sellers

On Aug. 3 the Washington Department of Revenue said it will require some out-of-state retailers to begin collecting sales tax.

Seattle’s Misstep highlights need for new approach

Last week, Seattle’s City Council did an “about face” revoking the onerous… Continue reading

Hotel Interurban is now open

This is Tukwila’s first boutique hotel in over 20 years and offers 185 hotel rooms.

PCC Community Markets brings first certified organic grocery to Burien

The grand opening for the new market in is May 23 and is the first PCC store south of Seattle.

The exterior of Hotel Interurban. Courtesy photo.
Hotel Interurban is accepting reservations for spring 2018

Tukwila’s first boutique hotel in over 20 years will feature local artists, dynamic meeting and event spaces.

Boeing held an event to celebrate the production of the 10,000th 737 jetliner. The Southwest airplane was displayed at the Renton plant on March 13. Leah Abraham, Renton Reporter
Celebrating the 10,000th 737

Boeing has reached a significant milestone — its 10,000th 737 jetliner. Hundreds… Continue reading

Raina Labrum plays with her dog, Riven, right, as well as Daisy, center, and Poby, left, at Piper’s Playground indoor dog park in Federal Way. Heidi Sanders, the Mirror
Piper’s Playground offers indoor play space for dogs

The first Federal Way indoor dog park opened Jan. 18.