Rauner's workers' comp plan is bad medicine for workers

Rauner's workers' comp plan is bad medicine for workers

By David J. Fletcher

The News Gazette recently published an editorial in response to Gov. Bruce Rauner's plan to rein in workers' compensation costs as part of his self-touted re-engineering plan for Illinois.

The editorial conveyed the statement that Illinois has the seventh highest workers' compensation costs in the nation and the highest among six Midwestern states.

What this passage does not explain is that the actual benefits for Illinois workers are much better than that of other states because Illinois workers have higher wages and injured workers in Illinois receive reasonable workers' compensation benefits versus the decimated benefits that injured workers receive in other states that serve as "models" for those that wish for Illinois to join the race to the bottom.

In March 2015, National Public Radio published a story entitled, "Injured Workers Suffer As 'Reforms' Limit Workers' Compensation Benefits," which outlined the disastrous consequences for the thousands of people who suffer serious injuries at work each year because state after state, like Illinois, has been dismantling America's workers' compensation system, as many workers are forced into poverty as they lose their private health insurance while battling to get treatment for care related to workplace injuries.

Rather than the employer covering the cost of an injured worker's care, the cost has transitioned to taxpayers or private health carriers because injured workers who are denied treatment are forced to seek care elsewhere outside of the workers' compensation system.

How, then, can we hope to bridge this gap in order to equalize where the financial responsibility for treatment lies?

The answer is through proactive prevention measures — a key discussion piece that was missing in 2011 and is still noticeably absent in any current discussion.

Prevention and treatment measures should be at the forefront of an employer's concern.

Why? Employers must recognize that their employees are their most valuable assets. When an employer takes the time to fast-track medical treatment for their injured employees, they are able to lower their costs and achieve a timely return to work. These injured workers appreciate the employer's benevolence and, often, do not seek the services of an attorney because they have been treated fairly by their employer.

When employees perceive that their employer has their best interest in mind, morale increases; accidents decrease. It is a formula for organizational well being in the holistic sense.

Gov. Rauner is quick to blame workers' compensation industry shortcomings, with the message that benefits must be slashed in order to entice businesses to invest in the State of Illinois.

His stance, on the contrary, should be focused on initiating insurance industry oversight, as well as employer awareness initiatives to prevent workplace injuries.

David J. Fletcher, MD, MPH, FACOEM, SafeWorks Illinois (private occupational medicine practice), is a physician member of the Illinois Advisory Committee for Workers' Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) and member of the Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) task force on workers' compensation. He resides in Monticello.