12-22-11; We are starting to think the “People’s Republic of Illinois” simply can’t ever make sense

In our view, the State of Illinois has the highest workers’ compensation costs on the planet for almost every government or private organization other than the U.S. Government. We will donate $500 to the favorite charity of the first reader who can point to a government/private company that spends more than $133 million each year, as our state does. We consider that a staggering and embarrassing amount that demonstrates how little the last several state administrations care about how they spend taxpayer dollars. It is also astonishing to contemplate there are that many “accidents” being suffered at Illinois state facilities! To cap all of it, in our view, nothing, absolutely nothing is being done about this government largesse.

Here are some cogent thoughts on why it may never make any sense and millions in taxpayer dollars will continue to be flushed down the drain, at least under the current leadership. In the 2011 Amendments to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, they created a WC Program Advisory Board to try to figure out how to stem the tide of red ink from the hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s dollars flowing to state workers under the guise of workers’ comp. The IL WC Act Amendments were signed into law on June 28, 2011 by our Governor. Everyone is still scratching their head about the PPP provision that was supposed to save millions for IL business—the Illinois Department of Insurance appears to be lugging and tugging their feet on final approval. To the extent Illinois already had PPO’s for decades; what is taking so long about finally approving PPP’s? Won’t it save the State of Illinois money if they sign up with a WC PPP?

To our knowledge, the Governor and our legislative leaders still haven’t taken any definitive action on several of the Amendments but these are the provisions directly affecting WC claims for state workers:

1.    The Director of Insurance for the State can prepare and implement a plan to purchase Workers’ Compensation insurance for the State.

2.    We note individual State agencies will be compelled to fund TTD payments themselves in the event that light duty is not accommodated once the light duty release is issued pursuant to the treating doctor and the IME physician.

3.    The Department of Central Management will develop an advisory body known as the State Workers’ Compensation Program Advisory Board designed to review, assess and make recommendations to improve the State workers’ compensation program. The Governor is to appoint one member of the Board with the Speaker of the House and Minority Leader to appoint other members. Members of this board shall serve three year terms.

To quickly answer these legislative challenges:

1.    No one in their right mind would ever sell “insurance” to our nutty state—if they are blowing $133M each year, the premiums for next year would have to include a small profit for the insurer. How in tarnation could over-the-counter WC insurance for our state ever make sense?

2.    The second provision is a solid concept and makes common sense to most risk managers. However, you can hear the sound of foot-dragging from here to Springfield. We don’t believe there is any state agency that is following this legislative provision and many don’t even know it is the law. If any of our readers can prove us wrong, please send it along and we will make the same charitable donation to the first reader to send it in.

3.    Finally, the Illinois State Workers’ Compensation Program Advisory Board is an interesting but quizzical idea. It is stunning to contemplate they still haven’t finalized the members. The obvious problem is you only need three folks on the board—everyone else who appears on it will simply be for public relations purposes. The three requisite members are Governor Quinn, Senate President Cullerton and House Speaker Madigan.

In our view, if the Governor, Senate President and House Speaker quietly and quickly tell the folks they have carefully vetted and placed on the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission at the hearing/review level to make state WC costs come down by 10, 20 or 50 per cent, we assure our readers such costs will immediately drop by that amount. The hearing officers/administrators don’t need slide-rules or new computers to figure it out, as it isn’t rocket science, folks.

In contrast, if the IL WCPAB conducts hundreds of hearings and listens to hours of boring testimony and reads the transcripts and concocts brilliant concepts and promulgates all of them for us to review and the Big Three listed above don’t sign off on them, fuggettaboutit—Illinois ain’t ready for WC reform. State workers will continue to cash millions of our dollars in WC benefits.

And it is hard not to ask the rhetorical question—if the Big Three were committed to saving taxpayers on the record-high benefits for state worker in our WC system, why has it taken six months to move forward with this simple advisory board concept? Doesn’t the State of Illinois spend at least $11 million every month on these handouts?

Please also note our sources indicate Attorney General Lisa Madigan is now starting to get egg on her face from poor handling of the defense of Illinois state worker claims by her litigation team. Please note someone should have to take the heat for the millions being doled out in southern Illinois WC claims. We are advised the same claimant lawyers handle most state workers’ WC claims across Illinois. Most of the opponents of these claimant attorneys in litigated claims are the same assistant attorneys general in any given region of the state. Most of the hearings involve identical or nearly-identical accident claims. Claimants are told to answer the same questions by their attorneys in each claim.

Most of the defense cases-in-chief presented by AG Madigan’s defense lawyers involve a few dopey questions, no independent medical exams and basically no defense case at all. We are told the number of proposed decisions being filed by assistant attorneys general are about as many teeth as there are on an average duck. You guessed it, if AG Madigan’s troops and CMS don’t spend the time and effort to defend claims, hefty awards are sure to follow. We are also told they get hit with penalties and fees on a regular basis or they drop defenses to avoid claims for penalties and fees as a regular course of practice.

We think it is sort of odd to see Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s lawyers get hit for hundreds of millions in WC awards/benefits by hearing officers vetted and otherwise chosen, in part, by her dad, House Speaker Michael Madigan. A casual observer might think her last name might result in more middling outcomes. However, some observers feel in Illinois WC basically anything goes, so long as claimant wins.

We appreciate your thoughts and comments. Please do not hesitate to post them on our award-winning blog. Happy Holidays to everyone.