10-25-11; Can the State of IL and the City of Chicago appoint “Attendance Czars” to attack spiraling WC costs, questionable claims and absenteeism?

We continue to reel on the news these two nutty government bodies have annual workers’ compensation costs that will respectively exceed $100 million dollars for each every year. The State of Illinois has a budget deficit expected to top $8 billion or about 25% of its budget while the City of Chicago is now pushing for a deficit expected to be as high as $800 million or about the same percentage of its budget. If you aren’t certain, the State of Illinois has about eight times the number of workers the City of Chicago has so if the numbers for the City are accurate, and we have no reason to doubt the Chicago Sun-Times who published the $100 million number, the State’s comparative annual payout at the rate the City is blowing WC money would be $800 million.

The City of Chicago’s WC numbers indicate they have the highest per-employee WC payout on the planet. One out of every ten City workers has a pending WC claim. We don’t think anyone on this Earth is even close; if any reader is aware of one, please send it along. We are certain any private company with one WC claim for every ten workers would be out of business in a year.

Why do these two government bodies throw away so much money and stick out so badly? Well, we feel the main problem is the old-line politics that got them to this situation. In a setting where everyone is working in a political patronage army, the overall goal is electioneering. The government job is a far second place to winning elections. The folks at the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago who are in charge of WC programs have been running them badly for decades—the programs act as a perk for their workers and the workers’ attorneys who donate heavily to keep it all going. You may ask, what about civil service protections and the Shakman decree that were designed to take the politics out of State and City politics? Well, they sort of worked and sort of didn’t. Lots of folks on both sides of the political fence in this state still feel pressure to participate, donate and win elections. Civil service safeguards are sort of a joke in this state--as we just saw at the Illinois WC Commission, civil service protections were quickly and brutally stripped from lots of hard-working and long-time arbitrators who were summarily canned for doing nothing wrong other than holding the same job titles as two or three miscreants. The State of Illinois and City of Chicago both have “reform” leaders who haven’t truly touched the main issues that have led to monster budget deficits and lots and lots of borrowing.

The Main Problem Causing Hundreds of Millions in Government Waste

What do we think is wrong with these governments and their programs—in a word, attendance. In our State and City governments, lots of workers don’t have to show up. We are told thousands of workers for both government bodies are ���missing in action” every day of every year. How can that happen--one way to maximize lost time is to get “hurt” at work—one can have an infinite number of workers’ compensation claims, if you know the ropes. We are advised lots and lots of state and city workers file lots and lots of claims and take over whatever season they want at their whim to return to protected jobs whenever they want. As a cookie, they then seek a nice tax-free WC settlement in a forgiving system that punishes and penalizes anyone who gets in their way.

Hold on, hold on, one might say. That can’t happen, can it? Shouldn’t both government bodies be investigating these dubious WC claims and looking for lost time documentation and sending out surveillance operatives to insure they aren’t stealing from the taxpayers? Well, we have advised you both the State of Illinois and City of Chicago have hilariously comical WC claims adjusting programs. The State of Illinois claims adjusters have more than 1,500 claims each—in comparison, most private WC claims handlers are able to track about 150 litigated lost time claims before pulling their hair out. If you think 1,500 is a lot of Illinois WC claims, try to imagine the City of Chicago has a single adjuster managing over 3,000 claims!!! No one person can manage and investigate literally thousands of workers’ compensation claims. It is almost a miracle to imagine they can keep any of it straight—we bet a detailed audit would show lots of overpayments and double-payments at every level.

On the other end of the matrix, if you can argue your injuries or surgeries arguably prevent you from coming back to work at your initial job title, right now, the State and City of Chicago won’t bring you back to alternative work. We call this “inverse absenteeism.” This is literally the best of all worlds for the government workers and a nightmare in runaway costs for taxpayers. In August of this year, we reported about a story from George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer of the Belleville News-Democrat about a State of Illinois worker who underwent CTS repairs and then could no longer work as a court stenographer. When the State couldn’t/wouldn’t bring her back to another job, the State's Office of Workers’ Comp Claims Mismanagement provided this excuse for now owing her several million in benefits: "If and when possible, one of the primary objectives of the state's workers' compensation program is to return employees safely and quickly to productive work." However, they also apologized to note "Re-employment for injured workers is subject to union bidding rights, veteran's preference and other laws, and all hiring must take place within those laws." We consider that excuse to be balderdash when you understand how much those comical and supposedly unalterable “rules” cost all of us. We think “workers’ comp rules” should also be a part of the mix.

The BN-D team also reported claimant got an additional $122,000 from the IWCC for “loss of trade.” In addition to the monies listed above, this claimant will also receive $1,482 per month in occupational disability from the State Employees Retirement System. Her total for workers' compensation and retirement disability is $57,633 per year, none of which is subject to tax. In our view, she is getting more tax-free dollars in “retirement” than her salary! The projected lifetime cost of the combined benefits is $1,671,357.00. Adding the $122,000 in “double-permanency” and the $248,966 already paid, our State is going to be out about $2,042,323.00 not including medical bills. Right now/today, the claim value would drop from over $2,042,323 back to $122,000, a savings of about $1.9 million, if they offered her a reasonable job right now—the State can cut all of this off if and when they ever get the message and offer her a reasonable job. All of these benefits for a woman who testified under oath she can and will work. No one seems to care about “inverse absenteeism” other than the taxpayers.

We are telling everyone who will listen our sources advise us the State of Illinois is paying about 400-500 lifetime total and permanent disability claims. Some of those workers can and should be brought back to work. We don’t know but we are confident the City of Chicago probably has several hundred similarly situated individuals living off “double-dipped” lifetime WC and retirement benefits. Can someone send a FOIA request to find out how many and what they are getting?

Our Thought—Attendance Czars for State of Illinois and City of Chicago Claims

Noting the City of Chicago has an “Inspector General” for outside vendors and general corruption in city government. The stated mission of the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General is to root out corruption, waste and mismanagement while promoting effectiveness and efficiency in municipal government. The Office asserts it is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. We assert no one is watching spiraling workers’ compensation costs or claims mismanagement in either State or City government.

We are telling them and everyone who will listen their workers’ compensation program needs to be audited with a focus on attacking lost time at the beginning of claims. Getting folks back to work to avoid “lazy-lot” T&P’s has to be addressed. Private WC brokers or the top-notch managers at IRMA should be consulted for their thoughts and comments. They need someone to attack and prevent “non-accident” accidents. They need to start considering what folks in the private sector do to avoid claimants who file numerous claims and act unsafely so as to cause the claims.

We truly don’t care if the Attendance Czar is a part of the Inspector General’s Office or another payroller. We just feel someone, somewhere has to take a look at how much taxpayer money is being overpaid to city workers as a result of absenteeism, uncontrolled WC costs and obvious mismanagement. Something should be done to stop it while there are still folks in this State and City who can afford the rising taxes and tolls.