It’s time to get special interests out of workers’ comp
Illinois physicians in the workers’ compensation system are allowed to sell “repackaged” pills directly to patients at huge markups, averaging between 60 and 300 percent.
The workers’ compensation system is broken in Illinois.
But what does that really mean?
For the Schrimpf family, high costs could mean losing 17 union jobs. And for Paul Levin, an outdated system has caused a lifetime of pain. Their interests have been sidelined for too long.
Matt Schrimpf is the fourth-generation president of Piasa Motor Fuels, located on the Missouri-Illinois border in Alton, Ill. His great-grandfather started the company in 1932.
But Schrimpf says he can’t win enough contracts to keep his drivers. Not in Illinois, at least. Why? The Land of Lincoln is home to the Midwest’s highest workers’ compensation costs.
Schrimpf says his business is losing local work to companies from Missouri and Indiana. And workers’ compensation is playing a major role.
By Schrimpf’s estimate, Piasa’s trucking business would save more than $25,000 a year in workers’ compensation costs alone by moving those 17 jobs to Missouri. A move to Indiana would save them $66,000 a year. And the difference in licensing fees would save Piasa thousands more.
“You’re in disbelief,” Schrimpf said of seeing the cost comparisons for the first time. “It’s so much better.”
“I don’t have a hurt workforce, we’re just a victim of a high-priced system.”
Illinois businesses in the transportation and manufacturing industries have been demanding workers’ compensation reform for years. High insurance costs cut into payrolls, which is part of why Illinois manufacturing workers take home the lowest pay in the Midwest after adjusting for cost of living, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Paul Levin formerly worked in manufacturing. He was an engineer.
But in 1999, he hurt himself trying to debug a machine at a factory in Arlington Heights. Four back surgeries later, and he offers his friends one piece of advice on Illinois’ workers’ compensation system: “Stay away.”
“It needs to be changed,” Levin said.
When Levin hurt his back, his regular orthopedist said he would likely need surgery in the near future. But workers’ compensation doesn’t work like car insurance, where you head to your trusted auto repair shop after an accident. Levin had to go to one of the doctors who opted into the state’s workers’ compensation system.
His regular orthopedist wasn’t one of them.
Levin’s workers’ compensation doctor put him on a six-month course of medication and bed rest. No surgery.
After weeks of excruciating pain and constant haranguing from Levin’s preferred orthopedist, the workers’ compensation doctor agreed to surgery. But by then it was too late.
Levin now suffers with permanent nerve damage. Doctors have told him that the long waiting period after his injury likely was the cause of that damage.
Levin will remain on prescription painkillers for the rest of his life.
And a dangerous loophole in Illinois’ workers’ compensation system means he won’t be the only one.
Illinois physicians in the workers’ compensation system are allowed to sell “repackaged” pills directly to patients at huge markups, averaging between 60 and 300 percent. When physicians are allowed to do this, research shows they prescribe nearly three times the amount of drugs they would prescribe otherwise, and patients are more vulnerable to opioid addiction.
It’s one reason workers in Illinois take much longer to return to full health than workers in other states.
Clearly there’s a problem here. And special interests have drowned out the voices of Schrimpf, Levin and others like them.
The rules of the workers’ compensation game have not been written as part of a grand compromise between employers and employees. Instead, the workers’ compensation system in Illinois operates on the whims of certain doctors, lawyers and insurance companies.
Those parties are interested in two things: hiking insurance premiums and keeping employees in treatment for as long as possible.
It’s the opposite of what workers and businesses want: reasonable prices and care that gets people healthy and back on the job sooner.
Employers and employees in Illinois deserve the right to escape this system and enter their own agreements. No outsiders allowed. State lawmakers should allow Illinoisans the ability to opt out of a broken system: one that has shown little interest in the health of workers, the vitality of businesses, and the growth of good jobs that sustain both.