Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has initiated plans to hire outside firms to oversee the operations of the city’s workers’ compensation program. At $100 million per year, Chicago’s workers’ compensation program is supposed to provide a safety net for injured workers. However, handing control over the program to a private firm could put the health and safety of workers in the city at serious risk.
The Problems of Filing Claims in Chicago
A recent audit by Grant Thornton has determined that there are serious deficiencies in the city’s workers’ compensation program. The audit determined that the program did not adhere to the best practices adopted throughout the country. It also determined that staff members responsible for processing and handling claims were poorly trained and the program did not utilize effective policies and procedures when processing claims.
This translated to inconsistent claims outcomes, delays, and claims denials. Essentially, workers who placed their trust in a system designed to protect them were instead having their claims handled by a program that had anything but their best interests in mind.
The Proposed Plan
Mayor Lightfoot has determined that the best way to get things back on track is to transfer day-to-day operations of the workers’ compensation program over to Gallagher Basset. This is a departure from Rahm Emanuel’s earlier plans to turn control over the program to the city finance department. By contrast, most cities in the United States ensure that their workers’ compensation programs are overseen by city finance or human resources departments.
The Risks to Workers
The recent history of the Chicago workers’ compensation program is rocky at best. The scandals surrounding the program are almost too numerous to count and the delays they are causing for workers desperate for compensation are jaw-dropping. While city leaders argue that handing control over to an outside firm is the most expedient solution, such a move is a band-aid that won’t solve the problem. It may stop the bleeding, but it is unlikely to generate the long-term positive benefits that workers in Illinois require. If anything, handing control of this vital program over to an outside firm with little oversight may only make it that much more dangerous for people to go to work, and that much harder for them to receive a prompt and timely response when they file a claim.