Primary Elections and Restructuring at the IWCC
2014 – We are now in an election year for governor of the State of Illinois. The mudslinging has begun as the primary election nears. The governor is a key factor in workers’ compensation issues since he now appoints all arbitrators and commissioners. Democratic Governor Quinn has championed workers’ compensation reform, but the legislation he has proposed and enacted had very limited usefulness for employers. The 2011 legislation has not proven very effective in significantly reducing employer costs for workers’ compensation benefits. There are simply still too many loopholes in our statute. The 2011 amendments were written intentionally vague and the interpretation of the statute has not benefitted employers.
At this juncture, it is unclear whether workers’ compensation will be a campaign issue. None of the major candidates have really made workers’ compensation an issue. More significant issues will likely include the State’s minimum wage and the State’s personal and corporate income tax rates. Under Governor Quinn, our personal income tax rate jumped 66% from 3% to 5%. In 2015, the personal tax increase is scheduled to be reduced and dropped back to 3.75%. It would be excellent if tax rates dropped, but it is unclear how the State will actually pay its bills if tax rates do drop.
This campaign season is expected to be contentious. Surprisingly, Governor Quinn is running unopposed. Several high profile candidates including William Daley and Attorney General Lisa Madigan simply decided not to run.
Employers cannot reasonably expect any favorable treatment from Governor Quinn. If employers want most favorable political appointments or genuine legislative changes, voters in Illinois will need to elect with a new governor.
Bruce Rauner, a successful businessman, appears to have the inside track on the Republican side. By all appearances he will make a good candidate.
The shuffling of arbitrators both in Chicago and downstate poses challenges for the attorneys, employers and the Commission. Many arbitrators are traveling more than they ever did before. On the one hand, it is good to have the arbitrators change every two years and avoid the entanglements created by long term assignments. On the other hand, new arbitrators are not as familiar with the medical providers in the various venues. As we well know, certain medical providers tend to overtreat and overbill. It is difficult to get them out of the system since workers’ compensation reimbursements for medical are still at such a high rate.
There has also been a rather significant shift in the timing of Chicago status calls and subsequent trial dates. The trial dates for the arbitrators used to be staggered with each arbitrator’s trial cycle staring one week after his status call. Now, half the arbitrators are on trial during the first half of the month and the other half are on trial the second half of the month. This means the gap from the status call to the first trial date for certain arbitrators is very long (over 2 weeks), but for other arbitrators, the gap is really short (3 days). This will pose challenges with respect to trial preparation and witness notification.
We continue to see more and more Commission decisions analyzing impairment ratings and their effect on permanent disability awards. I will publish an analysis on permanent disability evaluations shortly. These issues still are in the midst of litigation and have not been resolved. There are no Appellate Court decisions addressing these issues yet and I do not expect there will be for another year or longer. For now, we have to continue to fight to encourage the Commission to use impairment ratings as the most significant factor in determining permanent partial disability awards. Clearly, that is what was intended by the legislature when they amended the statute in 2011.