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Gov. Bruce Rauner and his allies are holding the state budget hostage, putting the most vulnerable citizens of our state at risk, in an effort to re-engineer the state’s workers’ compensation system. They claim changes are necessary to boost the business climate in Illinois, but their so-called “reforms” will undercut the rights of injured workers, ensure the insurance industry makes even more money, and shift greater risk and cost burden onto taxpayers.

With all the doom and gloom in the news regarding our state’s dire financial straits and the possibility of a government shutdown that is likely to increase in severity for each day the state lacks a new budget, recent positive reports – which show workers’ comp costs are declining and businesses are growing – have gone largely unnoticed.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission’s annual report for fiscal year 2014, released in late June, said Illinois employers experienced the largest decrease in workers’ comp premiums among all states, dropping substantially from fourth highest to seventh highest, between 2012 and 2014. And the commission anticipates further savings once the full effects of the state’s 2011 workers’ comp overhaul are felt.

As for insurers, the IWCC said they enjoyed a 19 percent decrease in loss costs (benefit payments) between 2011 and 2015.

The insurance companies feign financial hardship. But the fact is, according to the IWCC, Illinois has more insurers selling workers’ comp policies than any other state in the nation. And since 2006, the number of insurance companies writing workers’ comp policies in Illinois has jumped 13 percent. How could this possibly be the case if the conditions in Illinois didn’t already favor the interests of those insurers?

Illinois continues to improve in business rankings as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Illinois ranked second among states where businesses are being created the fastest. In addition, Illinois moved up nine places and is ranked 19th in the 2015 CNBC poll ranking America’s top states for business.

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The truth is that the 2011 rewrite of our state’s workers’ comp law – those changes sought by the business community, and which were largely to the detriment of men and women injured on the job due to no fault of their own – is producing the desired result: lower costs for insurance companies and employers.

The insurance industry would have the public believe that the state’s workers’ compensation system is too generous toward the interests of injured workers, but the fact is that it’s all that’s standing between those men and women – many of whom may no longer work due to their injuries – and impoverishment. Dependence on food stamps and reliance on public health care programs should not be the fate for Illinoisans injured at work, with the financial responsibility borne by the state’s taxpayers when it is rightly that of employers.

No matter how many benefits are cut, medical reimbursements are lowered, and claims are denied, the state’s businesses won’t see corresponding savings without our leaders addressing the promises previously broken by the insurance industry. Strictly regulating insurance premiums, not further curtailing injured workers’ rights, is the key to managing employers’ workers’ compensation costs.

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Browder is president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association

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