For Grand Bargain, freeze on workers' comp wage seen as a start
Putting a four-year freeze on the statewide average weekly wage paid in workers' compensation cases is one of the provisions in Illinois' so-called Grand Bargain that Eugene Keefe says he and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce can live with, at least for now.
“I feel this would provide savings to employers and local governments,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a dramatic savings, but any savings is better than none.”
Keefe is a founding partner at the Chicago law firm of Keefe, Campbell, Biery and Associates. The firm specializes in compensation defense.
As of Monday, the budget deal is stuck in the General Assembly after failing to garner the needed support last week. Both the House and Senate are set to return and take it up again on Tuesday.
Keefe, who has written extensively about workers’ comp, told Chicago City Wire that the goal of reform is to make Illinois competitive with other states, not make funding dramatically lower.
“You don’t want to make it so cheap that workers have to go to other benefit streams to help their families,” he said.
Keefe used Indiana as an example.
“Indiana pays basically 10 years in benefits,” he said. “If you or one of your friends was injured, you only get paid for 10 years. That’s for major injuries like brain damage.”
Many work-related injuries last longer than 10 years, Keefe argued, and after 10 years many employees are not capable of returning to work, where physical and mental labor is expected.
“In my view no system should be like that,” he said. “That’s too cheap. Illinois doesn’t want to be too cheap.”
Keefe’s said reform should provide quality workers' compensation for employees that is sufficient to their injuries.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), who hammered out the current budget proposal with Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), said it contains provisions that would set "a four-year freeze to the minimum wage in partial permanent disability” as well as “a four-year wage freeze to the maximum wage that can be used in computing permanent partial disability."
According to Keefe, the freeze would take effect on July 1 and set the maximum weekly wage at $755.22.
Keefe said he also supports changes in the budget that put limits on the types and doses of drugs prescribed under the worker’s comp program and that prosecute worker’s compensation fraud.
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