On June 30, 2009, the Commission released its Annual Report of Operations for 2008. Highlights indicate that total claims of 57,515 were up slightly 1.5% from previous year totals of 56,685 including both filed claims and pro se settlements. Total claims were down approximately 8% from FY2004.
The Commission operates the state court system for workers' compensation cases. In Fiscal Year 2008, the Commission's operating expenditures were $18.6 million. The Commission's end of year headcount was 162 employees, plus the chairman, nine commissioners, and six Self-Insurance employees who are counted separately, for a total of 178 people. Illinois provides 33 Arbitrators statewide for hearings, settlement approvals and pretrial in approximately 30 hearing locations throughout the state.
The Insurance Compliance unit collected $1.8 million in fines in FY2008 from 66 uninsured employers with 900 workers that were found to be operating without workers’ compensation insurance. If the Commission finds an employer knowingly and willfully failed to obtain insurance coverage, they can be fined up to $500 for every day of noncompliance, with a minimum fine of $10,000. Corporate officers may be held personally liable if the company fails to pay the fine. Under the new compliance laws which took effect July 20, 2005, an employer may also face criminal charges and/or a work-stop order for failing to obtain workers' compensation insurance coverage.
Each year roughly 250,000 work accidents occur in Illinois but only claims involving 3 days or more lost time from work are reportable to the Commission. Approximately 80,000 injuries are reported by employers each year involving 3 days or more lost time. Out of all reportable injuries, approximately 60,000 formal new claims are filed each year by either a formal Application for Benefits or as an original settlement.
In an original settlement, the worker generally does not have an attorney 95% of the time and settles direct with the employer or the insurance carrier. In the year 2008, the annual report reflects original or “pro se" settlements were filed in 9,322 cases representing 16% of all claims. Overall, an injured worker hired an attorney 84% of the time with a formal filed Application for Benefits.
Not surprisingly, Chicago and the collar counties with hub cities within an hour or so from Chicago account for approximately 60% of all Illinois work injury claims. Also not surprisingly, back and neck claims accounted for the largest sector of reported injuries totaling 20% of all injuries in 2008.
Thanks to the addition of a third panel of Commissioners deciding cases at the Review level, in 2008 the formal written decisions from the Commission on appeal from an Arbitration Decision increased by 13% from 2007. A total of 1,195 formal Review Decisions were entered in FY2008 representing 2% of all claim closures. Dismissals accounted for an alarming 9% of cases disposed of while settlements represented 86% of all case closures.
Interestingly, when an injured worker filed an appeal to the Review level before the Commissioners, benefits were increased only 15% of the time. In appeals by the worker, benefits were actually reversed or decreased in 13% of the cases. The great majority of appeals by the worker resulted in no change of the Arbitration Decision in 72% of decisions in appeals filed by the employee.
In employer appeals to the Review stage, benefits were affirmed almost 66% of the time. However, the employer was successful in obtaining a reduction or a decrease in benefits awarded from the Arbitration Decision in 21% of the appeals filed by an employer. Outright reversals were obtained in only 6% of the Review Decisions filed and benefits were actually increased in 6% of the decisions appealed from.
The average time that a case takes from filing an Application for Benefits through the final formal Decision on Review is approximately 4.2 years. That number is deceptively high because in most cases the attorneys and arbitrators are forced to wait until medical care has concluded before an assessment of the permanent nature of the injury can be made or while waiting on final medical restrictions and assessing a return to work status.
The actual appeal times on Review decreased during 2008 to 16 months or 1.33 years from the date of the Arbitration Decision. This represents a significant improvement in delay times on Review. In 19(b) Emergency Petitions for Benefits, the wait time for a Review Decision was under one year at 11 months.
Most litigated cases at the Illinois Commission are settled by and between the attorneys. While total claims disposed of in 2008 totaled 59,533 between settlements, decisions and dismissals, actual formal Arbitration Decisions were issued in only 3,594 cases representing a ratio of 6% of total claim dispositions.
In comparison, the average time it takes for settlement from date of application for benefits until the date of settlement approval was 1.9 years.
The take away message for most may be that the Commission works best in the vast majority of claims by resolving disputes and contested cases through compromise settlement. Parties may be best served by representation with an experienced Illinois workers compensation attorney to arrive at an early compromise settlement rather than face the uncertainties and delays of trial and appeal.
It should be noted that Arbitrators in Illinois perform a significant crucial key function in supplying sound pretrial recommendations to assist attorneys in resolving disputed areas of disagreement in contested cases.
Formal Decisions of the Arbitrator were appealed in only 48% of cases that went to trial and decision so the informal pretrial recommendations by the Arbitrator weigh very strongly with the parties. After all, it's not nice to ignore the pretrial recommendations of the person most crucial to deciding the disputed issues of the case.
Contact an Illinois workers compensation attorney for assistance at (312) 541-0049 or email our office at info@Workcomp-Chicago.com.
Chicago Workers Compensation Attorney -- 7-06-09
The Illinois Workers Compensation Medical Fee Schedule adopted new Medicare Medical Severity codes for hospital inpatient services. The new MS-DRG codes are now part of the Illinois Medical Fee Schedule as of June 30,2009.
Medicare changed its inpatient codes from the DRG (Diagnosis Related Group) to the MS-DRG (Medical Severity-Diagnosis Related Group) to account for degrees of severity in medical treatment and the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission has now followed suit with modifications to adopt the changes. This will only affect workers compensation treatment for hospital inpatient services.
To allow transition time for the industry to adopt the new payment protocols, the Workers’ Compensation Medical Fee Advisory Board and the Commission have asked providers and payers to follow a July 31, 2009 effective date.
For all prior dates of treatment, the inpatient fee schedule uses the older DRG codes. Providers and payers should work to translate these bills using the CMS crosswalk, Grouper Version 24.0.
No separate right currently exists for medical providers to assert a claim for payment of related medical bills at the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission. However, the law does provide for interest payments and penalties on non payment of injury related medical invoices.
To enforce payment of medical bills for workers compensation, providers will require the assistance of an Illinois workers compensation attorney to file an application on behalf of the patient. For more information or assistance, contact our office.
Chicago Workers Compensation Attorney -- 7-05-09