Workers’ compensation claims involving prolonged covid could rise this year, although cost projections are hard to come by, experts say.
In January, the Workers Compensation Research Institute reported that long-term covid claims had higher-than-average medical and compensation payouts and longer durations of temporary disability than regular covid-19 claims.
“Notably, we found a nearly 10-fold difference in the average medical payment per claim,” WCRI researcher Bogdan Savych wrote in the report, which analyzed infections between March 2 and September 30, 2020.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance reported in October 2022 that post-infection health problems occurred in 24% of all covid-19 claims between March 2020 and June 2021, and that the average duration of temporary disability benefits for long-term covid patients was just over four months for hospitalized patients and approximately 95 days for non-hospitalized patients.
Still, it’s difficult to put a dollar figure on the cost of long-term COVID claims for employers and insurers because there is no universal definition of long-term COVID, according to Nedzad Arnautovic, associate actuary at NCCI.
Mr Arnautovic said there is a “reasonable expectation” that long Covid claims will continue in 2023. “Obviously this is highly dependent on virus variants, long-term effectiveness of vaccines and the number of revaccinations in the population,” he said.
“From the WC insurer’s perspective, I’m not sure there’s much difference if a claim is regular or long covid,” Arnautovic said. “As long as the claim is compensable, they will continue to provide medical/compensation benefits regardless of how it is classified.”
However, employers may be more concerned about how covid-19 claims are classified, since covid can long result in reduced productivity, lost revenue and costs to replace workers, Arnautovic said.
Mr. Savych wrote in an email that factors that could affect long-term Covid claims in 2023 include new virus variants, vaccination effects and “the responsiveness of state and federal policies.”
Joe Paduda, principal of Plainfield, New Hampshire-based Health Strategies Associates, said the nuancepp long covid makes it a challenge for an industry looking for cost information.
“Complicating this is the wide range of potential signs, symptoms and effects of covid, many of which may be caused or exacerbated by patients’ other health factors, medical history, lifestyle, genetic profile and/or pre-existing conditions,” Mr. Paduda said.
He said lengthy covid claims are likely to increase this year, “particularly in states with broad or ill-defined definitions of and/or assumptions relative to covid.”
Mr. Paduda said payers are concerned about the risk of additional costs for long-term claims, “but it’s far too much of a disaster based on far too little actual data or research.”
“The reality is that we don’t know much about the long-term impact of covid, how it can vary from person to person, the effect of comorbidities and past medical history and treatment options,” he said.
Delainne Bond, CEO of Kissimmee, Fla.-based COVID Care Group LLC, said there is “largely a lack of awareness of how long covid affects claims,” and that her concern is that “long covid affects our workforce regardless of whether whether or not there is a claim in connection with it.”
“What I see now is so tragic,” Bond said. “These people with long covid cannot keep their jobs” and the problem creates an “effect on the employment sector.”