This year’s lack of passed Covid-19 legislation that would affect workers’ compensation is an indication that lawmakers have lost appetite for measures to address the pandemic’s effect on worker infections, insurance experts say.
Last year, states passed 13 bills related to workers’ compensation, workplace safety and COVID-19, riding a wave of legislation passed in 2020 in the early stages of the pandemic, according to legislative analysis by the National Council on Compensation Insurance. While 2022 saw a similar push, with more than a dozen bills introduced across the country, only four have passed; most expand previous laws and one deals with compensatory pricing, according to a half-yearly report from the NCCI.
Laura L. Kersey, executive director of regulatory and legislative analysis for Boca Raton, Fla.-based NCCI, said most of the bills introduced this year have dealt with presumptions that a disease was caught at work, not just for covid-19 but for “infectious diseases.”
Kersey said only two states — Minnesota and Virginia — have passed covid-19 ordinances in 2022. A few states — including California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — are still in session and have covid-19 workers’ compensation legislation in the works, Kersey said she.
Steve Bennett, Washington-based assistant vice president for workers’ compensation programs and counsel for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, said “there’s no reason” for assumptions about covid-19 in most cases, especially since workers are no longer facing lockouts.
“In 2020 there were many quarantines; people didn’t go anywhere. But certainly in 2022, people are in their social mix, going on vacations or going to wedding receptions or parties and just living their lives now, he said.
“It’s really hard to say if you get an infectious disease, that it wasn’t at the party, sporting event, concert or dinner party you were at, that we’re going to assume it was work-related.”
Presumption, which APCIA usually opposes, had a place early in the pandemic, Mr. Bennett.
“Most of the assumptions that went through in 2020 and 2021 were very reasonably limited to health care providers and first responders,” he said.
Brian Allen, Salt Lake City-based vice president of government affairs, pharmacy solutions, for Mitchell International Inc., a subsidiary of Enlyte Group, said lawmakers also learned that some of the legislative efforts were unnecessary.
“Over the past two years, we’ve had some time to see how the presumption laws work, and in states without presumption laws how COVID claims have been handled. What we found was evidence that the worker system has actually worked pretty well even without a presumption for covid,” said Mr. Allen.
Furthermore, infections among workers were, for the most part, minor, according to the NCCI data, and most assumptions could be rebutted. In some states, this resulted in between 30% and 50% of claims being denied, according to data from several states.
According to NCCI, in 2020 and 2021, 18 states established covid-19 presumptions through legislation, directives, emergency regulations and/or executive orders. Two more states—Tennessee and Washington—established a more general “infectious disease presumption.”
“The experience with covid has taught us that, firstly, the fear in the workplace was probably a bit exaggerated, and secondly, a lot of things were in place to help mitigate the effects,” Allen said, pointing to a variety of workplace safety measures at mandated by both federal and local authorities.
He said states are dealing with spikes in Covid-19 infections and new variants with less restrictive regulations, as opposed to laws, because regulations are easier to manage in terms of expiration dates and other parameters.