It hurts just thinking about it. The Illinois Policy Institute recently issued a report that says the combined cost of workers' comp for the various municipal and state systems in Illinois totals a whopping $1 Billion a year. That number, by the way, is calculated without being able to get full statistics from the city of Chicago, which is estimated to have comp costs of over $100 million per year all by its little self.
The report is not without some controversy. Some groups in Illinois accuse the IPI of being an overly conservative “right wing” entity. The groups saying that mostly represent all the people getting a billion dollars a year in benefits, so, you do the math on that one.
This is not really news. The Illinois comp system has largely been a train wreck for as long as I have been in the industry. Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels once said that, when it comes to state government and efficiency, living next door to Illinois was like living next to the Simpson's, the “dysfunctional family down the street”. Illinois, after all, is the state where a good number of workers' compensation arbitrators have managed to file injury claims. In 2012 the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission granted benefits to a state worker for a condition associated with "repetitive walking". That claim occurred at the Menard Correctional Center, a facility that seemed to be a veritable claim factory for workers' comp.
Actually, looking back at some of the stories I've heard, I suppose that I should think a billion dollars annually is a bit low. The Menard facility could've probably sucked that up in a good month.
And even though it is a federal system, we cannot forget that Illinois is home to former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., who is collecting a tidy $138,400 a year for his psychological injuries, including bipolar disorder, incurred as a representative for the state. I'm sure that his being convicted and jailed for several years over illegally spent campaign funds had nothing to do with that on the job stress, by the way. And not all of it is technically comp. Some of it is SSDI, so… there you go.
The IPI report “analyzes workers' compensation costs for state government, school districts, townships, special district governments, municipalities, counties, other special police and fire districts, and publicly funded construction projects”, but not, apparently, mentally ill Congressmen.
The problem with excessive comp benefits for various government entities is not limited to Illinois. Some cities in other states often see employee disability claims conveniently filed near the time of retirement. And that might be the crux of the issue. When workers' comp is allowed to become a supplemental retirement plan, all bets are off. This is a wider issue in government than it is the private sector simply because the people who set up the programs have no skin in the game. It is the same as collective bargaining for public employees, where they negotiate with taxpayer's money.
Abuses will not stop until the taxpayer gets involved, and demands more accountability from their public sector systems. Until that point, especially in Illinois, the cash drawer will remain open and those funds will continue to flow.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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