SPRINGFIELD -- A major overhaul of the state's costly workers compensation system failed in the Illinois House on Sunday night, raising the possibility that lawmakers would push to entirely abolish a system that handles tens of thousands of cases each year.
Supporters said the plan would have cut between $500 million and $700 million from the program's costs by reducing medical fees, tightening review of workers' claims and making other changes. No Republican supported the bill in the 55-39 vote; legislation needs at least 60 votes to get out of the chamber
"It falls far short of what's needed," said Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights.
The sponsor, Rep. John Bradley, warned before the vote that he would not try again if the measure failed. "This is it! This is the vote!" the Marion Democrat shouted.
If lawmakers rejected the overhaul, Bradley said, the Illinois Senate would vote on getting rid of workers' compensation altogether. The House has already voted to eliminate it. Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said he might call for a vote on the so-called "nuclear option" on Monday.
Abolishing the system would put the 50,000 annual claims into the courts, a major change from the "no fault" approach of workers' compensation.
Injured workers would have to prove employers were at fault for injuries and could face long waits for much-needed money. Meanwhile, employers would face the possibility of juries handing out millions of dollars for pain and suffering and other damages.
Business owners complain that workers' compensation insurance is too costly, particularly in light of Illinois' recent income tax increase. Medical fees under the program are second-highest in the nation, and they say arbitrators, doctors and lawyers help each other by inflating treatment costs and compensation awards.
Republicans said they opposed the measure because most of the savings came from a 30 percent cut in payments to doctors and hospitals. They also said it should have required workers to show that their injuries were job-related before getting any money.
Many Senate Republicans voted in favor of the bill. It passed 46-8 in that chamber.
Gov. Pat Quinn accused House Republicans of squandering "the best opportunity our state has seen in decades" to overhaul workers' compensation.
"When they return home, House Republicans will need to explain to their constituents why they chose the interests of their political leadership over significant financial savings for their constituents," Quinn said in a statement.
Raoul was visibly upset after the vote. He gave reporters a roll call showing how each lawmaker voted. "I expect to see these names in editorials tomorrow," the Chicago Democrat said.
Raoul accused Republicans of following the wishes of medical groups who contribute large amounts to GOP political candidates.
"I'm sure that Rep. Bradley could not donate as much to their campaigns as the Medical Society," Raoul said. "So I don't see them changing their position."
Republicans said workers would see little change under the legislation and businesses might benefit, leaving health care providers to take most of the blow.
"You're scalping them," Rep. Dave Winters, R-Rockford, said during floor debate. "It is an absolute bloodbath that you're going to cause in this state."
The bills are HB1698 and SB1933.