April 17, 2020

Mixed ReactionsTo Workers CompCOVID-19 Expansions

Mixed ReactionsTo Workers CompCOVID-19 Expansions


State
workers’ compensation boards around the country are amending rules for benefits
payouts related to coronavirus, and several states have expanded or are
considering widening access to workers comp coverage for COVID-19 beyond first responders
and health care workers.

Kentucky
and
Illinois
this week implemented emergency orders to provide access to
public-facing essential workers, such as grocery, pharmacy, Postal Service and
day care workers. And Minnesota’s legislature unanimously approved a bill
that guarantees people in high-risk jobs who contract COVID-19 workers comp
coverage without having to prove the infection was a direct result of their
job. Most licensed peace officers, firefighters, paramedics, nurses, health
care workers, correction officers, workers at secure state facilities, workers
at long-term care facilities, and child-care providers are among the classes
included in the Minnesota measure.

Lawmakers
in Louisiana
and New
Jersey
also have proposed legislation to expand COVID-19 coverage beyond
first responders and health care workers, who traditionally are covered if they
are exposed to a communicable disease in the course of their work.

While
employee groups and unions applaud these moves, the changes could hurt the
workers comp industry, some experts warn.

Robert
Hartwig, clinical associate professor and director of the Risk and Uncertainty
Management Center at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, said
the changes present “a potentially enormous and unfair burden on workers
compensation insurers that’s completely unprecedented in history.”

Hartwig pointed to the
difficulty proving that the transfer of a communicable disease occurred on the
job and added, “This is potentially extraordinarily costly to workers comp
insurers, but also to many large employers who have either very high-deductible
programs or are largely self-insured.”

He said these changes
also could be “potentially catastrophic” to workers compensation state funds.



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