2-27-2017; Two New IL Commissioners Appointed--Will The Process Ever Open Up?; Does IL WC Truly Need All These Administrators; New Jersey Limits Opioid Use--Shouldn't You? and much more

Synopsis: Two New IL WC Commissioners Appointed. Will Illinois Ever Open Up the Selection Process?

Editor’s comment: On February 24, 2017, Governor Bruce Rauner filed the following new appointments to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission: 

Defense attorney L. Elizabeth Coppoletti to replace Commissioner Mario Basurto and Arbitrator Deborah Simpson to replace Commissioner Ruth White. 

Click to view the letters.

I continue to hate the “secret squirrel” method of hiring hearing officers in a fashion where you and I first learn about the selection long after the decision has been made. In other states outside Illinois, openings for such positions are advertised, resumes accepted for consideration and an open vetting process takes place. In Illinois, even under a reformer and iconoclast like Bruce Rauner, we still have secret, back-door politics to choose the folks that control our multi-billion-dollar workers’ compensation system.

One has to wonder if Governor Rauner or his team discussed his eternal need to lower IL workers’ compensation costs with these new appointees.

One also has to wonder how anyone thinks the current secret system for selecting our administrators looks like anything other than more politics, politics, politics. You clearly have to know someone who knows someone because all the gossips, tipsters and sources I have around the IL WC Commission weren’t aware of these openings, much less the appointments until late today.

The lawyers, staff and friends of Keefe, Campbell, Biery & Associates says farewell and adieu to former Commissioner Ruth White who started working at the good ole Illinois Industrial Commission back in 1979. I still remember the first time I appeared before former Arbitrator White, she had a court reporter that would talk into a cone to record the hearing—the reporter would later type up her recording. It was an oddity I have never seen again in the state or federal courts. It is our assumption former Commissioner White will take one of Illinois’ golden and unfundable gov’t pensions that should pay her 85% of her highest annual salary to start with 3% compounded annual increases and lifetime health care coverage. With all those retirement perks, why keep listening to all the whining as a hearing officer, some of which comes from Claimants?

We also wish all the best to former Commissioner Mario Basurto who came from Liberty Mutual’s house counsel operation directly to become a Commissioner. He learned very quickly on the job and generally did solid work in a tough position.

New Commissioner Elizabeth Coppoletti comes from the IL WC defense industry and knows the IL WC Act and Rules backwards and forwards. We consider her a leading IL WC legal authority. She oversaw the preparations of briefs and other filings at various levels of the appellate process and handled oral arguments at all judicial levels. We are certain she will be a solid administrator.

New Commissioner Deborah Simpson of Kane County has more than 25 years of government and law, having served since 2000 in the Office of the Illinois Attorney General’s Administrative Review / Civil Prosecutions Unit. Previously Ms. Simpson was attorney at the State’s Attorney’s Offices for Kane, Vermilion and Cook Counties. She has been a part-time instructor at the Danville Area Community College, and is a member of several community organizations. She holds a J.D. from the John Marshall Law School and a B.A. from DePaul University.

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Synopsis: Does IL WC Truly Need All These Administrators?

Editor’s comment: I was quoted in the Madison County Record this past week for my stance on the need for less government in this nutty state.


As you read this, all the simple and undeniable metrics for Illinois government point to financial Armageddon or something like it. We have over $12 billion in unpaid state government bills with state vendors either suing or going broke or both. That number is expected to double before the next statewide election in 2018. The State of Illinois also has government pension debt at $130 billion and growing by millions each day. IL State government credit rating is abysmal and getting worse by the minute. Take a look at Moody’s https://www.moodys.com/credit-ratings/Illinois-State-of-credit-rating-600024371. This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue—it is simple math, folks! Now is the time to get serious about cutting government costs and spending. If we don’t, I assure all of my readers they are going to have to raise already wildly high state income tax and real estate taxes and impose higher tolls and fees and do lots of stuff that will drive more paying taxpayers away, making the problems even more acute.

In the IL WC system, our administration grew and grew and grew more over the last twenty years while at the same time, IL WC claims continue to drop.

This is from page 7 of the IL WC Commission’s 2015 annual report http://www.iwcc.il.gov/FiscalYear2015AnnualReport.pdf. You will note they assert about 50,000 new IL WC claims are filed each year—I am betting the actual number is about 45,000. Fifteen years ago, that number was around 75,000 new claims. IL WC claims have an average shelf-life of about three years so there are around 135,000 claims in this system, down from 225,000 just fifteen years ago.



I don’t believe the math (as I am sure it is high) but they say 1500 cases are decided at the Commission level each year. We will start with those numbers for this analysis.

The Commissioners typically don’t hear any testimony or take evidence. They read the Arbitrator’s ruling, consider briefs filed by the parties, listen to oral argument and write decisions.


There are currently nine IL WC Commissioners with two full-time attorney assistants. There are a total of 27 attorneys working at this administrative level—9 Commissioners who each have two attorney aides. Their combined salaries are around $3M a year. All that money comes from a levy on IL business. If you just use their numbers above, the 27 lawyers at this level would by themselves only decide about 55 cases per hearing officer/aide a year—that is about one ruling per lawyer each week. Some of the rulings are a page, most are three to five pages. In my view, that is less than a full day’s work.


In the past, the Commission used to report about one-half of these rulings were summarily affirmances—when the Commissioner or their aide summarily affirm the Arbitrator’s decision, after considering everything, they simply agree with and adopt the Arbitrator’s decision. If they summarily affirm one-half of the Arbitrator’s decisions, simple math indicates the 27 lawyers are deciding about one contested case every two weeks.


To me and with respect to all of them, that means we have too many hearing officers at this level. If they cut this group down to six Commissioners, the savings would be about $900K in salary alone.


If they get serious about efficiency, I am sure three Commissioners with two attorneys assistants could also do the same job if they do what you and I call “hard work.” I hate to say it but we also could get along with fewer Arbitrators, if we continue to have fewer and fewer claims to adjudicate at the primary level. I still remember when IL WC had less than 15 Arbitrators handling claims across the State—we now have around 30 or double that amount for about half the claims.


In summary, at some point, Illinois is going to have to mark hard decisions about our soaring gov’t debt, unpaid gov’t bills and spiraling taxes. If we don’t start cutting government and doing something to make things more efficient and effective, the world may correct this for us and not in ways we would like or choose.


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Synopsis: Should Your State Limit Opioid Use in All Medicine to Include Workers’ Comp Claims?

Editor’s comment: We salute New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who recently signed into law a bill that limits initial prescribing of opioids for acute pain to a five-day supply, in what is being called our nation’s strongest opioid reform. Senate Bill 3 also requires insurers to cover treatment of substance use disorders that has been deemed necessary by the patient’s physician, psychologist or psychiatrist. It spells out requirements for opioid prescriptions following the initial supply and mandates opioid education for prescribers.

The bill sailed through the New Jersey Legislature in a matter of weeks.

“A five-day limit on initial opioid prescriptions will be imposed, lowered from 30 days, which is the current law, and most of you know that most physicians write 30 days automatically, no longer,” Christie said in signing the bill on Feb. 15. “Five days is now the initial that they can write it for.”

Several other Northeastern states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New York and Vermont, have enacted limits on initial opioid prescriptions of seven days.

The requirements in New Jersey SB 3 include a requirement for doctors to document a patient’s history of opioid use, before writing the initial prescription, as well as their response to non-opioid therapies including alternative drugs or non-drug treatments.

The Medical Society of New Jersey asked lawmakers to carve out an exception for post-surgical patients, allowing an opioid prescription to cover up to 14 days. After major surgeries, the Medical Society asserts a patient may risk rupturing sutures if they have to go to see the doctor for a refill of pain medications. The bill was not amended to accommodate the request.

In Maine, a proposal to limit initial opioid prescriptions to a three-day supply for acute pain and 15 days for chronic pain was changed to seven days and 30 days, respectively, in response to concerns from the Maine Medical Association, according to an article in ACP Internist, a publication of the American College of Physicians.

Workers’ compensation drug formularies may limit the number of days for opioid prescriptions in which preauthorization is not required.

In New Jersey, Christie is reportedly devoting his final year in office to the opioid crisis. The Republican governor is set to leave office in January 2018 due to term limits. 

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Synopsis: Illinois WC Rates Jump Again and Your PPD Reserves Need To Be UPDATED RETROACTIVELY(!). Send a Reply to Get a Free Copy of Shawn R. Biery’s Updated IL WC Rate-Sheet!


Editor’s comment: There continues to be an upward spiral of IL WC rates. As mentioned twice every year, starting in the 1980’s, the IL WC Act provides a formula which effectively insures no matter how poor the IL economy is doing, our WC rates keep climbing.


We caution our readers to pay attention to the fact the IL WC statutory maximum PPD rate is now $775.18. When it was published, this rate changed retroactively from July 1, 2016 to present. If you reserved a claim based on the prior rate for the period from July 1 to right now, your reserves are wrong. If you have a claim with a date of loss after July 2016 and a max PPD rate, you need to take a look and see if the new maximum PPD rate applies. WORD OF CAUTION: There is pending legislation which Gene reported last week and this week which currently states “The maximum compensation rate for the period July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2021, except as hereinafter provided, shall be $755.22. Effective July 1, 2021 and on July 1 of each year thereafter the maximum weekly compensation rate, except as hereinafter provided, shall be determined as follows: if during the preceding 12-month period there shall have been an increase in the State's average weekly wage in covered industries under the Unemployment Insurance Act, the weekly compensation rate shall be proportionately increased by the same percentage as the percentage of increase in the State's average weekly wage in covered industries under the Unemployment Insurance Act during such period.” THIS NEW LEGISLATION WOULD POTENTIALLY CHANGE THIS PPD MAX AGAIN. If this isn’t clear, send a reply to Shawn at sbiery@keefe-law.com.


The current TTD weekly maximum has risen to $1,435.17. A worker has to make over $2,152.76 per week or $111,943.52 per year to hit the new IL WC maximum TTD rate. Does any state in the United States have a TTD maximum that high?


The new IL WC minimum death benefit is 25 years of compensation or $538.19 per week x 52 weeks in a year x 25 years or $699,647.00! The new maximum IL WC death benefit is $1,435.17 times 52 weeks times 25 years or a lofty $1,865,721.00 plus burial benefits of $8K. On top of this massive benefit, Illinois employers/governments have to pay COLA increases.


The best way to make sense of all of this is to get Shawn Biery’s colorful, updated and easy-to-understand IL WC Rate Sheet. If you want it, simply reply to Shawn at sbiery@keefe-law.com or email Marissa with your mailing address if you would like to be mailed a laminated copy at mpatel@keefe-law.com and they will get a copy routed to you before they raise the rates again!