SPRINGFIELD -- After months of negotiations, breakdowns and false starts, state business groups and legislators have a tentative agreement to reform Illinois’ workers’ compensation system, though the lead House negotiator says there is still work to be done.

SPRINGFIELD -- After months of negotiations, breakdowns and false starts, state business groups and legislators have a tentative agreement to reform Illinois’ workers’ compensation system, though the lead House negotiator says there is still work to be done.


“We have two options: We have this compromise agreement that is moving closer to having something that we can move forward with, and we have the blow-up bill,” Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, said Thursday.


“Those are both viable options, and we intend to pass one of those two before the end of session,” he said. (The “blow-up bill” is Bradley’s alternative proposal to abolish the entire workers’ comp system in Illinois, leaving decisions on individual workplace injuries up to the courts.)


The compromise, which is estimated to save Illinois businesses $500 million annually, hasn’t been written into legislation yet. However, a coalition of business associations and employers released a statement outlining a proposal they endorsed on Wednesday.


Key provisions sought by the business community include a 30 percent reduction in the medical fee schedule and adoption of American Medical Association standards to determine disability.


“(The proposal) will bring true reform and real savings to the employer community,” said David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.


“Is it everything people want? No, but in Springfield you seldom get everything you want or everything you need.”


Business lobbyists were unsuccessful in their attempts to include so-called “causation” provisions in the proposal. Causation would require that the workplace be the primary contributing cause – 51 or more percent – of any compensable claim.


“Causation as an issue left town about two weeks ago,” said Illinois Manufacturers’ Association president Greg Baise.


However, the plan does include provisions to try to ensure that claims do arise from workplace injuries.


The bill will say that it's up to injured workers to prove they were injured because of their jobs, said the Senate’s lead negotiator, Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago.


Baise said he’s happy with that provision, even though it falls short of full causation.


Not everyone is happy with the reforms contained in the proposal.


“To me, it’s sad that we have to look to hourly workers to diminish their rights when business is doing very well in the state of Illinois,” said Illinois Trial Lawyers Association president Todd Smith.


The medical community is unhappy with the lower medical fee schedule – the agreed-upon amounts health care providers get paid for doing certain workers’ compensation procedures.


The Peoria-based Illinois Work Injury Resource Center, which exclusively treats injured workers under the workers’ compensation system, will become nearly unprofitable if the fee schedule is cut, president Peter Deuvendack said.


“We’re not a hospital – we’re an independent provider and we run a very lean operation,” Duvendack said. “We looked at our profit margin in 2010 … and a 30 percent cut would probably force us to close our doors.”


IWIRC, pronounced “I work” by Duvendack, is relied on by more than 1,700 employers. It had a 15 percent profit margin in 2010, when 70 percent of its revenue came from the workers’ comp fee schedule and 30 percent from direct billing to employers.


“For large practices and hospitals, there is some wiggle room,” Duvendack said. “For us, there isn’t.”


 


Andy Brownfield can be reached at (217) 782-3095.


 


Elements of proposed workers’ compensation reforms


*30 percent reduction in the medical fee schedule


*Adoption of American Medical Association standards to determine disability


*Creation of workers’ compensation provider networks, similar to preferred provider networks already used in health care generally


*Stronger utilization review


*Limits on wage differential payments –benefits based on the difference between a workers’ pay before and after his or her injury – to age 67 or five years, whichever occurs later


*Reducing the duration of payments for carpal tunnel syndrome – the most commonly claimed workplace injury – from an average of 40 weeks to 28 weeks


*Appointment of new workers’ compensation arbitrators, who must be approved by the Senate


*Accidents involving drugs or alcohol will no longer be presumed not to have been caused by the substances