Letters to the Editor

Weak oversight of workers’ comp insurers should be Illinois’ focus

There are 332 insurance companies writing workers’ compensation insurance in Illinois, more than in any other state. Our state is an attractive place for them to do business precisely because of insufficient oversight and laws that put their interests ahead of Illinois’ workers and employers.

According to a report last year from the governor’s Department of Insurance, workers’ comp insurers saw profits jump nearly 22 points between 2010 and 2014, from negative 11 percent to positive 11 percent, while between 2011 and 2015 they reduced their financial payouts on claims to below the national average.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, in his budget address, once again called for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system, but missed an opportunity to spotlight the real problem with that system: insurance company profiteering. The insurance companies have exploited insufficient oversight and, since a 2011 rewrite of state law, have taken most of the savings for themselves as profits, rather than passing along their reduced cost of doing business to employers.

Cutting benefits, lowering medical reimbursements and denying claims from injured workers only further pads the insurance industry’s profits. These types of cuts would shift to taxpayers, through Medicaid and other publicly funded programs, the responsibility for the resulting medical bills and income support payments. The result is a race-to-the-bottom with lower-income states that leaves everyone, except insurers, worse off.

Legislative efforts concerning workers’ comp should focus not on further eroding the rights of the injured, but on improving workplace safety and oversight of workers’ comp insurers.

Christopher T. Hurley is president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.