SPRINGFIELD – With Illinois hovering near the bottom of the 50 states for unemployment and economic performance and outlook, enabling employers to invest more in workers, equipment and expansion is an urgent issue, according to state Sen. Kyle McCarter.
McCarter is one of four legislators appointed to the State’s Workers’ Compensation Program Advisory Board.
“Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation System is one of the issues that brought me to the Legislature,” said McCarter, R-Lebanon. “As a manufacturer who understands why the system is there – to protect workers and protect business owners from catastrophic claims – it’s important that we as legislators make sure the system works as intended.”
The Workers’ Compensation Program Advisory Board is tasked to review, assess, and provide recommendations to improve the workers’ compensation program and to ensure that the state manages the program in the interests of injured workers and taxpayers. The board is required to meet at least three times per year and issue a yearly written report with any recommendations by July 1.
According to a 2012 study (latest available) by the state of Oregon, Illinois has the fourth highest workers’ compensation insurance rates of the 50 states. Meanwhile, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nationwide association of state legislators, conducted a study of the states’ economic performance between 2002 and 2012, and the outlook for the future. ALEC rates Illinois 46th among the 50 states for economic performance and 48th place for economic outlook.
“I hope I can recommend some practical ways to reform the system to encourage business owners to invest in bigger ways in Illinois,” said McCarter. “The end result is more jobs for our families and to fuel the Illinois economy. With the right balanced and equitable reforms I believe we could put back into our economy the equivalent of about 1 percent of the total payroll of our state’s private sector. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars.”
McCarter has been on the legislative forefront of the workers’ compensation system issue raising public and legislative awareness of the system’s shortcomings. He first proposed sweeping reforms in 2011 only to have the package of bills fall five votes short of passage. Twenty-eight senators voted “present” and subsequently supported an alternative reform plan.
“What was passed several years ago was reform but it was sold as potentially saving the private sector about $800 million when in fact the savings have been far less, about $200 million,” said McCarter. “Unfortunately, the structural changes that other states, such as Missouri and Indiana have made were not part of the 2011 reforms here. We tried workers’ compensation-lite and it didn’t work. The reforms have to be substantial and structural.”
McCarter said the reform to Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation System that would have the single largest impact would be redefining the term ‘causation’ in the law for workplace accidents. That would ensure the workplace was the major cause of the accident and the injury suffered for which the system was originally designed to provide compensation. He said the way the workers’ compensation law is written today; a worker who suffers an injury outside of the workplace but then is re-injured on the job can file a claim leaving the employer completely responsible.
“Employers want to pay claims for accidents that occur in the workplace, they just don’t feel it’s fair for them to pay for injuries that take place outside the workplace,” said McCarter. “The law is so broad and gives so much room for claims to be made within the workplace, even if only a tiny portion of the claim occurred at the workplace, it is fully paid under worker’s comp. Clearly the law needs to be changed to implement a realistic and fair causation standard.”
McCarter said workers, employers and taxpayers all have something to win when it comes to reform.
“True reform; fair reform, means taking the shackles off our economy and taking better care of workers who are injured on the job,” he said.