Workers’ Compensation Update on COVID-19 Presumption Laws as of May 2021

Recently the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) provided an update on the status of the presumptive legislation that a number of states passed in 2020 to cover COVID-19 under Workers’ Compensation for specific classes of employees who became infected and ill. Typically, Workers’ Compensation covers employees for “occupational diseases” that arise out of and in the course of employment. However, many state statutes actually exclude “ordinary diseases of life” (like the flu). The pandemic ushered in changes as many states moved to cover the virus – at least temporarily – for essential workers (first responders, healthcare workers and others, depending on the state).

Expanding Who’s Covered

According to the NCCI, nine states enacted COVID-19-related “presumption” legislation in 2020 that were set to expire after a certain period and/or once the state’s emergency orders were lifted. This year, some states extended or expanded their presumptions. For example, Illinois enacted legislation extending the COVID-19 presumption provisions through June 30, 2021. Alaska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are considering legislation to extend their presumptions, expand the types of workers covered under their presumptions, and/or apply their presumptions retroactively. 

Other states are also considering establishing new Workers’ Compensation presumptions for COVID-19 for certain workers such as teachers, other school employees, and nurses (separate from healthcare workers), while others are looking to create presumptions of compensability that could be applicable beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, at least 12 states (Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington) have introduced legislation that would establish Workers’ Compensation revisions to coverage eligibility for infectious diseases and pandemics, according to the NCCI.  Several of these bills specifically mention COVID-19, while other proposals also contain terms such as “contagious disease,” “COVID-19 or similar disease,” or “other future qualifying pandemic.”

Fewer COVID-19 Claims than Expected

Interestingly enough, the NCCI said that there have been fewer COVID-19 claims than originally anticipated. Thus far there have been 45,000 COVID-19 claims, generating a total of $260 million in losses to date. Lost-time claims account for 75% of the losses, while the average claim runs about $6,000. Healthcare workers and first responders accounted for 75% of COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation claims.

Private insurers in fact posted a profitable calendar year with a combined ratio of 87, the industry’s fourth straight year with a combined ratio below 90, reported the NCCI. 

Other Workers’ Comp Concerns

Carriers are also watching the impact of any potential mental health effects of the coronavirus crisis. The NCCI report notes that while a majority (32) of states specify some mental health coverage under Workers’ Compensation and seven exclude such coverage, the remainder of states are silent on the matter. In addition, the NCCI is monitoring approximately 40 bills addressing Workers’ Compensation for mental injuries. This includes more than 30 bills related to post-traumatic stress disorder.

We will continue to keep you updated on trends in Workers’ Compensation and how they may impact the healthcare sector. Manchester Specialty Programs provides Workers’ Compensation insurance among other critical business insurance coverages for the Home Health Care, Allied Health and Human and Social Services sectors. For more information about our national insurance program, please call us toll-free at 1-855-972-9399.