States Order Workers' Compensation Coverage for COVID-19 Claims
April 15, 2020
On April 9th, Kentucky’s Governor, Andy Beshear, signed an executive order allowing employees eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits when unable to work due to exposure to COVID-19. This order covers workers in healthcare, corrections, active military, crisis or domestic violence shelters and grocery stores; first responders, community-based service workers, postal workers, and critical childcare providers. Claimants are eligible for payments if there is a “casual connection” between the work conditions and COVID-19.
Similarly, on April 13th, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission deemed that all workers’ compensation claims under arbitration or review will presume COVID-19 exposure arose out of and in the course of employment for first responders and front-line workers. Illinois significantly expands upon list of the covered workers in the Kentucky order.
With the changes in Kentucky and Illinois, we can expect that other states will begin to rule on compensability as workers continue to file claims related to the virus. With Illinois alone reporting over 22,000 cases as of the date of the amendment, these rulings could create a significant burden on the workers’ compensation system. While the duration of medical treatment and work loss may last only a matter of a few weeks in most cases, there may be longer-lasting behavioral health and work impacts on workers who experience more serious symptoms if not addressed early.
As the COVID-19 illness can, in some cases, lead to hospitalization, invasive treatment, and even death, it has the potential to lead to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health diagnoses in many affected patients. We know that most people who experience a trauma do not experience PTSD – psychiatrist Dr. Jitendar Sareen puts the rate for non-violent, life-threatening events at around 12%. However, with the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 diagnoses, we’re likely to see an increased need for behavioral health interventions in workers’ compensation, with or without a diagnosed mental illness.
The increased stressors caused by the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn are having a profound impact on workers and their families. We’re seeing financial stressors, loss of childcare and other natural and systemic supports, decreased access to many enjoyable activities, and interpersonal conflict resulting from these issues. All of these concerns create challenges with facilitating return-to-work once the medical condition has resolved, and struggles with coping are only exacerbated by any mental health conditions. It is critical, then, to be acutely aware of behavioral health components to any COVID-19 related claim, and to address these concerns quickly as a way to more fully support the health of that individual and improve case outcomes. Check back for more updates and strategies for addressing COVID-related behavioral health issues.
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