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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