Workers' Comp System worsens health problems

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Posted by Injured Workers of Illinois (e mailed in to IWA) on May 04, 1999 at 10:18:48:

I had contacted you several months ago, I wanted to know how your ombudsman system worked. I thought you might be interested in my groups recent activity. If you should post the mailing address ask anyone contacting to send a legal sized, self addressed stamped envelope. Thanks Laurie

Injured Workers of Illinois,
P.O. Box 853, Carpentersville, IL 60110.

Injured employees tell lawmakers workers' comp system needs reform

By Dean Olsen

SPRINGFIELD -- The state system designed to care for workers injured on the job often makes their health problems worse by delaying or denying payment for proper medical treatment, several former workers told Illinois lawmakers at an emotional hearing this week.

"This system makes you physically, financially and emotionally bankrupt," Laurie Selpien, 40, of Carpentersville told the Senate Commerce and Industry Committee.

Added Joliet resident Marla Sebben, 48, who believes her on-the-job spinal injuries worsened because employer-paid doctors denied her a needed back operation more than a decade ago: "I never dreamed that in the United States you can lose your rights, your civil rights. The last 14 years have been a nightmare."

Selpien, Sebben and several other injured workers upset with the state's workers' compensation system testified at the request of Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, committee chairman, and Sen. Steven Rauschenberger, R-Elgin.

The former workers said the system, created in 1912, is unfair and not geared toward the injuries workers now receive that require rapid treatment. State law needs to be changed to ensure quick medical treatment and to make sure fair parts of the law are followed, they said.

Chicago resident Adrianne Duncan, 27, an actress who was badly burned in 1996 while working as a waitress, said she wants to see workers compensated for pain and suffering.

"The system dehumanizes us," she said. "I have lost acting jobs from the scars on my hands and torso."
Corrupt system alleged
With teary eyes, they told the lawmakers about a system they believe is filled with corrupt doctors, lawyers and insurance companies bent on ensuring profits by denying coverage. They also said they believe uncaring state workers have changed documents illegally.

The injured workers said the system protects employers, doctors and lawyers from being sued while forcing injured workers to go on welfare or face bankruptcy.

The former workers said some try to discount their complaints, believing they are trying to cheat the system out of benefits.

Most of those testifying have reached settlements with their former employers and said many workers still fighting for benefits or pay are too scared to complain publicly.

John Hallock Jr., chairman of the Illinois Industrial Commission, which administers and oversees the workers' compensation program, told senators that the people testifying might have legitimate criticisms, but he has no way to be sure, because he doesn't know the employers' sides of the arguments.

The overwhelming number of injured workers are satisfied with their treatment, he said. "As far as I know, there is no fraud in the Industrial Commission," he said.

The commission's system of arbitrators and judges handles 70,000 cases a year, and 85 percent of them are settled and not appealed. "The current system works very well. There may be flaws," Hallock said.

The adversarial relationship among workers, employers, workers' doctors and employers' doctors is part of Illinois' workers' compensation law, he said.
Support group
But Lauzen said he wants to pursue the matter further, though his next step is uncertain. "There are some very serious problems that need to be addressed," he said. "The status quo is just not acceptable."

Selpien said she might be able to work today if she had received timely medical treatment after she suffered a chemical burn to her respiratory system while working for a Chicago-area factory in 1990.

She founded a support group for others frustrated with the workers' compensation system:

Injured Workers of Illinois,
P.O. Box 853, Carpentersville, IL 60110.

Lombard resident Roxanne Carpenter, 42, a former graphic artist, said she had to have part of her right leg amputated in 1991 because her employer refused to pay for aggressive treatment after she fell and twisted her leg at work in 1987.

She said she was forced to return to work too soon and fell again at work, causing bone spurs that create chronic pain. She said medicines she takes to deal with the pain have discouraged her from becoming pregnant because of potential damage a fetus could suffer.

Because of delays and denial of payment for treatment, she told the committee, "Only dollars were saved. Or were they?"

Former social worker Barbara Greenberg, 56, of Mount Prospect, said, "If you're not disabled when you get into the system, you'll be disabled when you get out."


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