Only attorneys, doctors and politicians benefit from Illinois' Workers' Compensation system, Cook County businessman says
The workers' compensation system in Illinois benefits attorneys, doctors and politicians but not workers, employers and insurance companies, a Cook County businessman and officer in a large industry political action committee said during a recent radio show interview.
"There's not one employer, public or private, for profit or nonprofit, that isn't burdened with excessive workers' compensation costs in Illinois," Zach Mottl, chief alignment officer at Atlas Tool & Die Works in Lyons, said during a recent edition of Illinois Rising. "It is simply a bad system."
Mottl, the fourth generation of his family to own and operate the metal services and manufacturing company in the Cook County township west of Chicago, also is chairman of the Tooling & Manufacturing Association PAC. TMA has about 1,000 member firms that employ about 30,000 in Illinois.
He made his comments on Illinois Rising with co-hosts Dan Proft and Chicago Tribune editorial board member Kristen McQueary.
Mottl said he has first-hand experience with how workers' compensation works in Illinois.
"There are definitely some fraud claims getting through in Illinois," he said. "I think every manufacturer you talk to can tell you their horror story about a fraud claim that they had that drove up their rates."
Mottl then described his own horror story of a woman employee who claimed to have suffered a back injury on the job but the observations of a private investigator hired by his insurance company suggested otherwise.
"They found that the woman who was claiming a horrible back injury was lifting her children in and out of the car, and when she went to Great America, she was carrying groceries," Mottl said.
But the insurance company settled with the woman, paying all her claims and providing her with a cash award, something Mottl said he couldn't understand.
"I said, 'Why aren't we going to fight this? This is clearly a fraud claim,' " Mottl said. "And [the insurance company rep] said, 'Look Zach, we're going to go to court, we're going to spend perhaps as much money as we're going to pay out in a cash award to fight this, if not more. And when we go to court, there's [only] a 50-50 chance that we're going to win.' I couldn't believe that. But that's how it's set up in Illinois."
As an alternative to taking a claim to court, the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission was set up to arbitrate such cases. But it doesn't provide better relief, Mottl said.
"The guidelines are so loose in Illinois that they have absolute discretion on the case," he said. "They don't have to follow doctor's notices, they don't have to look at whether the employee was permanently injured. They can just make a decision and it's totally up to them to award. They have been, in the past, very beneficial to the injured worker and they have not really, in my opinion, listened to the employer's claims or looked at the facts, the medical facts, surrounding the cases."
Mottl's observations are far from rare in Illinois. The state is tied for eigth place with Oklahoma in workers' compensation premium rates for this year, according to figures released in October by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. That is an improvement over 2014 when Illinois ranked seventh behind Oklahoma.
"Who's benefiting from this system?" Mottl asked during his Illinois Rising discussion. "Benefits have gone up in Illinois for injured workers since 2002. This system has not reduced benefits. But I really don't think workers are benefiting from this system. They get more tests, they get poked and prodded and sent to more doctors and more appointments in Illinois than in any other state. It takes them longer in Illinois to get better and it costs more money, to the employer and to the system. So who is benefiting? Because, from what I've seen, it's really not the insurance companies, it's not the employer and I would argue it's not the worker."
Instead, attorneys, doctors and politicians are the three parties who benefit from the current workers' compensation system in Illinois, Mottl said.
"It's those three other parties who are benefiting by this system," Mottl said. "And they have a lot of incentives to keep it going and drive up the costs."