Since January 2008, Illinois taxpayers have paid nearly $10 million in workers compensation awards and settlements to staffers at Menard Correctional Center in downstate Illinois. An investigation by the Belleville News-Democrat revealed that more than 230 employees at the prison have filed workers compensation claims for repetitive trauma injuries since January 2008—most of which are alleged to have arisen from locking and unlocking cell doors. Strangely, all of these claims came after a 2007 report commissioned by the state that showed that guards’ duties would not cause repetitive motion injuries.
While a federal grand jury considers potential fraud charges, Illinois lawmakers decided to take action. On June 28, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a major overhaul of the state’s workers compensation law. Among other things, the revision slashes the maximum compensation for carpal tunnel sufferers, reduces the compensation for medical providers and gets rid of workers comp arbitrators whose allegedly too-cozy relationships with claimants’ lawyers led to some of the abuses. Quinn claims that the measure will save employers more than half a billion dollars per year.
In addition to slashing rates, the new statute reduces benefits. Benefits for carpal tunnel sufferers are reduced from 40 weeks to a maximum of 28 weeks, and wage-differential payments for someone with a permanent injury or impairment are cut off after five years or when the worker reaches age 67, whichever is later.
The amendment also makes mandatory a “utilization review” process. Before approving a certain course of medical treatment for an injured worker, the proposed treatment will be subject to peer review by a panel of experts to determine whether it is medically necessary. If the treating doctor decides to go forward with treatment not approved by the peer panel, the treatment will not be compensable.