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How - and why - workers’ comp reform passed

Monday, Jun 6, 2011

* The AP has a tick-tock story on how workers’ comp reform finally passed

With Republicans still firmly opposed, he and other backers focused on rounding up votes from six of seven Democrats who didn’t support the bill the first time around. Two lawmakers who voted for the bill on its first try would not be present for the final vote.

Bradley, Raoul, Madigan and state insurance director Michael McRaith approached them all, trying to allay concerns that had thwarted the bill in the first round.

Yes, they told one, workers would still be able to get a second opinion from doctors. Yes, they said, your constituents would still be allowed to choose their own doctors. Yes, they informed another, the bill thoroughly protects injured workers’ rights.

But Madigan’s power to persuade _ through his influence over the legislative process, political fundraising, and ultimately his members’ political fates _ proved critical. The speaker supported the workers’ comp bill at least partly as a helping hand to business in the wake of the state’s income tax increase, which Democrats had sponsored.

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column looks at the same subject

In all the years I’ve covered Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, he has never allowed his chamber’s Republican minority leader to best him. A minority leader might score a win here and there, but those victories are always short-lived. The wins are almost akin to a challenge to Madigan’s manhood itself, and they are never allowed to stand.

And so it was yet again with workers’ compensation reform. House Republican Leader Tom Cross locked his caucus into a position against the bill the Sunday before the spring session adjourned and the bill appeared to die.

Indeed, the House Republicans surprised many by making no attempt whatsoever to even try and hide their real motives for voting lockstep against the workers’ comp bill. Simply put, the proposal harmed the interests of the Illinois State Medical Society by mandating a 30 percent cut in medical reimbursement rates. Republican after Republican rose during debate to decry the proposed medical reimbursement cuts. The Medical Society has historically given a ton of campaign cash to the House Republicans. If the Democrats simply reduced the cuts down to the Medical Society-approved 20 percent level, the Republicans more than implied, there’d be a deal.

The Speaker was in no mood for a deal. Instead, he pulled out all the stops, as only he can. The legislation wound up passing with 62 votes on the last night of session, even though two of Madigan’s 64 members were out of town.

The bill also picked up a lone House Republican supporter. Rep. Chris Nybo (R-Elmhurst) had wanted to vote for the bill on Sunday, but was browbeaten into submission the first time around.

The House Republicans might ultimately regret their political maneuver. While the Republican leadership managed to keep all their other members off the legislation, support for the bill by most Senate Republicans undercuts their “official” position that the reforms don’t go nearly far enough.

Illinois Chamber President Doug Whitley didn’t have many kind words for the bill in the days leading up to the vote, but he showered praise on the legislation after it cleared the House on the second try.

“I’m glad it passed,” Whitley said after the bill was finally approved, running through several positive aspects of the legislation. Whitley’s group has been pushing workers’ comp reform for more than two years, and the obviously exhausted business leader said he was relieved this phase was finally over.

Whitley said it would probably take two years for the reforms to work its way through the system. By the next gubernatorial election, he said, the results should be clear. If they work, then that’s great. If they don’t work, then he vowed to make workers’ comp reform an issue in the 2014 campaign.

Whitley singled out Senate President John Cullerton as the “hero” of the moment. Cullerton has been pushing to reform the system since last fall.

While Cullerton certainly deserves praise for his persistence, he wasn’t alone. Both sponsors, Rep. John Bradley and Kwame Raoul, guided the talks to a conclusion. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel helped flip some recalcitrant Democrats and Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration never let up the pressure.

Illinois Manufacturers’ Association CEO Greg Baise and Illinois Retail Merchants Association President Dave Vite rolled with the punches, never panicked and always stayed focused on reaching an agreement that could realistically pass both chambers, even when other business leaders abandoned the quest. Both Baise and Vite have a policy of creating majorities in both chambers which support their groups’ interests, rather than backing a single party over the other. It worked again.

It’s also difficult not to point out that if the House Republicans, doctors, unions and trial lawyers had agreed to a compromise proposed back in January, they would’ve taken a far lighter hit than they did last week.

That earlier proposed compromise cut medical reimbursement rates by just 15 percent (half the final total) and included few of the other reforms contained in the current bill. The groups thought they could fight off any changes at all if they held together.

The problem with their logic is they failed to consider that Madigan would make passing a reform bill a point of honor. His personal constitution does not allow him to be bested by the GOP. And in the end, he won again.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - the Patriot - Monday, Jun 6, 11 @ 8:01 am:

    I am not so sure Madigan came out on top of this one. In 05, he shoved reform down everyones throat under what was hailed as an “agreed bill.” 5 years later when demands for reform resurfaced, the fact business eventually took what they could in 05 was used against them.

    Articles still refer to the 05 mugging of business as a pro-business bill. Madigan pinned himself into a corner vowing for meaningful reform. Because of his committment and what happened in 05, he had to pass reform without republicans, or give them everything.

    He just did business a free favor and got no concession from republicans this was a good deal.

    I do commend Mr. Madigan for pushing some reform through, but this does nothing to really put us on a level playing field with neighboring states. It also does nothing to address the concerns at Menard and state facilities that started this conversation.

    I am also concerned with how much of a beating doctors will take. Most of them are very wealthy, but in rural communities the payor mix if very poor. Substantial portions of the population is on medicaid. Those bills are not getting paid by the state. Work comp premium billing off set that loss. Now you are not going to pay the bills and cut work comp. Cutting one without fixing the other will cost us doctors long term.

    It is not that they can’t make money, but they can go to another state and make more.

  2. - wordslinger - Monday, Jun 6, 11 @ 8:12 am:

    For a big-time lobby, the docs really overplayed their hand, thinking the minority House caucus was an ace in the hole.

    It’s not like Madigan has never put more votes on a bill the second time around.

  3. - Leave a light on George - Monday, Jun 6, 11 @ 8:19 am:

    Belleville News Democrat reporting that CMS had not one but two studies done that said all the carpel tunnel claims at Menard prison were not caused by operating the locks. However the state continued to pay the claims.

  4. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jun 6, 11 @ 9:31 am:

    ===However the state continued to pay the claims. ==

    Yeah, because there’s a thing called an order to do so.

  5. - the Patriot - Monday, Jun 6, 11 @ 9:40 am:

    This goes to the heart of why Madigan gets a kudos for a draw, not a win.

    It all goes to causation. Although most occupational studies will say those activities don’t “cause” repetitive trauma injuries, the studies are not used in IL work comp. They are routinely dismissed.

    In IL, if the activity causes or aggravates, it is compensable. That means if work could be a 1% factor it is a winner for the worker. Not many doctors will say the work would not affect someone with carpal tunnel at all.

    The BND can keep writing the articles, but it is still the law. If Madigan meant to continue to let workers fleece employers with injuries that were not mostly caused by work, then he did get a win.

  6. - Robert - Monday, Jun 6, 11 @ 12:04 pm:

    A friend owns a small business that employs 50-100 people. He constantly complains about the business environment in Illinois, blaming the Democrats in general for everything. Workers compensation was his favorite issue to complain about.

    I’m sending him Rich’s column.

  7. - Leave a light on George - Monday, Jun 6, 11 @ 1:27 pm:

    I have filled out many a w/c supervisor’s forms. They ask you to specifically describe what job related task was the employee performing when they were injured. The one claim that caused me the most aggravation with CMS was when one of the law enforcement officers I supervised blew out an achilles tendon while chasing a felon. Can’t believe the crap I had to go through to convince them it was job related. Yet, they don’t even put up a fight when their own studies say the claims at Menard are bogus?

  8. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jun 6, 11 @ 1:28 pm:

    ===Yet, they don’t even put up a fight when their own studies say the claims at Menard are bogus? ===

    Where did you see that?

  9. - Leave a light on George - Monday, Jun 6, 11 @ 2:10 pm:

    From the BND article.

    “But instead of challenging the taxpayer-paid settlements — which ranged from $20,000 to $100,000 — CMS continued to approve payments to guards for repetitive trauma. They turned over copies of the 2008 report to the Illinois Department of Corrections and attorney general’s office, then filed it with no investigation.”

    Now quit bugging me. I’m trying to follow the Blago cross examination!

  10. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jun 6, 11 @ 2:24 pm:

    Read the rest of the article. That’s just a really weak lede.

    But, yeah, everybody seems to be watching that live feed. Traffic is way up, comments are way down. The trainwreck is fascinating people.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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