In 2011, at the urging of the state’s leading business organizations, bipartisan majorities of Illinois lawmakers approved a workers’ compensation overhaul aimed at reducing the costs for Illinois employers. Injured workers gave up long-standing rights in exchange for insurance companies’ promises of being transparent with pricing and passing savings along to employers in the form of rate reductions.
Unfortunately, the insurance companies have not held up their end of the bargain.
We are once again hearing calls from the business community about the need for more changes in the workers’ comp system in Illinois. We do need reform — but this time it must be insurance reform. It is past time for lawmakers to address the unkept promises made by the insurance industry and pass legislation that appropriately regulates workers’ comp insurance premiums.
Results from several recent studies published by insurance industry associations reveal that the changes made in 2011 are indeed producing some of the intended results. Premium and treatment expenditure costs across the board have dropped dramatically, but the bulk of the savings have not gone to employers. Here are some of the key findings:
• Illinois’ rank in a nationally respected study of premium rates conducted by Oregon regulators dropped from third to 22nd in less than a decade — a period of time that tracked with implementation of the 2011 rewrite. This is one of the largest drops in the country; Illinois now ranks near the middle of the pack for insurance premium prices.
• The National Council on Compensation Insurance, which publishes workers’ comp advisory rates, has since 2011 recommended a cumulative rate reduction of 51.4 percent. Had that suggestion been implemented, Illinois employers would have saved more than $2.25 billion in premium costs — a sum much larger than the relative savings depicted by the Oregon study. But private, for-profit insurance companies have refused to reduce their premiums in accordance with their own industry recommendations.
• The National Academy of Social Insurance reports that Illinois had a 12.1 percent decrease in benefits paid between 2012 and 2016. This is the sixth largest decrease in the country and it likely is because of the 2011 changes.
• Profits in the insurance workers’ comp market in Illinois have significantly increased since 2011. In 2015 and 2016, insurers in Illinois made nearly $1 billion in profits.
• Attracted by lax regulation during the Rauner years, there are now 328 insurance companies writing workers’ compensation insurance policies in Illinois according to the state Department of Insurance. Only Pennsylvania has more.
• The number of new workers’ comp cases filed in Illinois is on a steady decline, down 24 percent since 2011.
The evidence is clear: The changes made in 2011 — which were sought by the business community, and which were largely to the detriment of men and women injured on the job — are producing the desired result of lowering rates. Illinois no longer ranks near the top for costs in the workers’ comp system. In fact, we are now near the middle of the pack and costs are comparable to those of our Midwestern neighbors.
Cries for deeper cuts to the benefits received by injured employees, punctuated with the false claims that businesses avoid Illinois because of our workers’ comp costs, are a blatant ploy to pressure lawmakers into stripping what remains of workers’ rights.
The truth is that Illinois is a good place for business. It is home to 37 of the nation’s largest companies in the 2018 Fortune 500 list — only three other states have more. And according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, we are ranked fifth in the country for gross domestic product.
Insurance companies are clearly taking advantage of both workers and employers, pitting them against each other. Any further changes to the workers’ comp system in Illinois must focus on insurance companies and the unjust premiums they charge business owners. Deeper benefit cuts for injured workers, diminished medical reimbursements and denied claims will only boost insurance industry profits while shifting the cost of caring for injured workers onto the backs of taxpayers through publicly funded programs — a proposition that neither the worker nor the Illinois taxpayer can afford.