Changes to the Illinois workers’ compensation laws voted on earlier this year officially went into effect on the first of September and have been met with a mixed reception.
The changes, widely touted as reducing costs for employers, leave some employee advocates wondering how well the new laws will actually meet the needs of injured workers.
Medical Reimbursement Fee Reduced
A notable feature of the new law is a 30 percent reduction of the medical reimbursement fee schedule. This change alone is expected to save employers about $500 million per year, but it also means that medical providers will be compensated less for their services. This could result in decreased access to medical care for injured workers, since there is less incentive for doctors to participate in the system.
Preferred Provider Programs
Provider choice may also be limited by another provision in the new law that allows employers to establish preferred provider programs. An employee may choose two providers from within the network, or may opt out of the network in writing. However, opting out triggers a series of procedural complications that could make opting out an unattractive alternative to many injured employees.
Injured workers will also receive reduced compensation for certain types of injuries under the new laws – for instance, the maximum award for the loss of the use of a hand is reduced from 205 weeks to 190 weeks. Similarly, most repetitive carpal tunnel injuries are now capped at 15 percent of the loss of the use of a hand.
The new laws apply only to injuries that occurred on or after September 1, 2011 and claims for injuries that occurred before that date will continue to be evaluated under the previous version of the law. Some Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers say that it will become clearer just what negative affects the bill will have as more claims are decided under the new provisions.