By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – The Illinois Legislature passed a bill that could be an innovative solution to the state’s workers’ compensation problems by creating a non-profit compensation insurer to provide lower premiums.
The Senate passed it on May 26, sending it to Governor Bruce Rauner for his signature or veto.
Under House Bill 2622, the Illinois Employers Mutual Insurance Co. would pass along savings from the 2011 workers’ compensation reforms, which so far have been swallowed up by insurance companies as extra profit instead of being passed along as lower rates to employers.
“This legislation allows for a non-profit insurance company to provide a cost-effective alternative to businesses,” said Representative Dan Beiser (D-Alton), a chief co-sponsor.
The new insurance company could sell the same insurance as for-profit companies but would be committed to providing better value for businesses, not profits for investors, possibly pushing for-profit companies to offer better rates as well.
Twenty other states have similar, state-charted insurance companies, among them Missouri, Texas, Kentucky and California.
PARTY LINE VOTE
House Bill 2622 passed the House April 27 on a strict party line vote of 67 to 51. Every Democrat voted for it, and every Republican voted against it.
The Senate was similar, passing it 32-20. Every vote for it was from a Democrat except for one – Senator Sam McCann (R) of nearby Plainview, who often votes with Democrats on measures affecting workers and their unions. Two Democrats voted against the bill and five senators did not vote.
Rauner is not known for signing Democrat-backed bills, and it would be difficult for the bill’s sponsors to get the Republican votes needed to overturn a veto. Its chief sponsor in the Senate was gubernatorial candidate Dan Biss.
Rauner wants to reduce workers’ compensation rates by cutting benefits, leaving injured workers hung out to dry. But creating a new government entity to reduce costs doesn’t seem to appeal to the governor nor any Republicans besides McCann.
House Bill 2525 would amend the Worker’s Compensation Act to allow the Department of Insurance to review workers’ compensation insurance rates before they go into effect and reject those that are excessive. It would also:
• Let employers save money by establishing safety and return-to-work programs.
• Make clear that employees’ accidents while traveling to or from work are not covered.
• Allow cost-sharing among employers for workers who develop repetitive trauma after changing jobs.
• Provide compensation for workers whose treatment is found to have been unreasonably delayed.
That bill was filed by Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), co-sponsored by Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) and passed in the House April 27 on a party line vote. The Senate concurred on May 26, with McCann again voting with Democrats.
Beiser said that despite Republican opposition, the bills would give employers the lower costs they want without depriving workers of proper coverage.
“In 2011, we passed significant workers’ compensation reforms, but unfortunately the savings haven’t been passed on to the employers,” he said. “Instead, big insurance companies have used these savings to pad their profits.
“Governor Rauner has been talking a lot about helping small businesses. This legislation would actually help to bring down workers’ compensation costs without ignoring the needs of hard-working men and women. This measure will help make Illinois more competitive, while also protecting the middle class.”