Healthcare Workers Stricken by COVID Fight for Compensation Benefits

July 13, 2020

Up until now, the workers had to prove convincingly that they became infected on the job. But 16 states are now considering putting the onus on the hospital: Make it prove that the worker didn’t get the disease on the job.

One of the many elements of that make coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) so difficult to treat is that one can’t pinpoint exactly where or how someone might have gotten the disease. Healthcare workers who’ve gotten COVID-19 (and the families of healthcare workers who’ve died from the disease) are finding that trying to obtain workers compensation benefits or death benefits can be nearly impossible, Kaiser Health News (KHN) reports today.

Up until now, the workers had to prove convincingly that they became infected on the job, not an easy argument to win given that there are so many asymptomatic carriers out in the community.

Now, according to KHN, 16 states and Puerto Rico want to put the onus on the hospital: make it prove that the worker didn’t get the disease on the job.

“Bills vary in the scope of workers they cover,” KHN reports. “Some protect all who left home to work during stay-at-home orders. Others are limited to first responders and health care workers. Some would cover only workers who get sick during states of emergency, while others would cover a longer period.”

Different states are taking different approaches, and some of those approaches are being opposed by hospitals and business associations. KHN cites a bill in New Jersey that makes it easier for essential workers who got COVID-19 during the state of emergency to prove that they got it on the job.

Chrissy Buteas is the chief government affairs officer for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, which opposes the bill, which was passed by the state Senate and is pending in the General Assembly. “Our concerns are primarily that the cost of these claims can overwhelm the system, which was not designed to handle claims during a worldwide pandemic,” says Buteas.

KHN also looks at a case in Virginia in which a physician assistant (PA) who administered COVID tests had to be hospitalized when he came down with the disease for a week, and wound up missing five weeks of work.

The PA asked to fill out workers’ compensation forms. He was refused the forms and was then laid off five days later, with a $60,000 hospital bill. Attorney Michele Lewane is representing the PA in the case. According to KHN: “Lewane said the law in Virginia will likely consider COVID-19 an ‘ordinary disease of life,’ akin to a cold or the flu. She said she’d have to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that he caught the coronavirus at work.”