The Coronavirus has wreaked havoc in the United States. Till date, it has more than four million cases, with 149 000 deaths. In this blog, we have provided a detailed report on families of health workers who died due to COVID and were denied compensation benefits.
So, let’s dig deep!
The situation of families of health workers who died due to COVID
James Anderson, a hospital employee in Suburban Philadelphia, had a low-profile yet critical job. He was tasked with changing air filters in COVID patients’ rooms. By the end of March, COVID cases in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, were more than 90 cases per day. At the Hospital, Anderson handled air filters and other surfaces that might have been contaminated with the deadly virus.
In early April, Anderson visited the hospital with mild symptoms of cough and cold. On April 13th, Anderson was rushed to the hospital, where he died of severe respiratory distress syndrome from COVID-19. He left behind a wife and two children aged 5 and 9.
As the COVID toll climbs, sick workers and families of the dead are suffering from a severe financial crisis. Another daunting burden is fighting for benefits from workers’ compensation systems that, in some states, are stacked against them. On communicating with lawyers and families across the nation, it was found out that healthcare workers, including nurses’ aides, physician assistants and maintenance workers, have faced denials and other complexities of getting the benefits paid. Often, these even amount to ambulance bills and lifetime salary replacement for a spouse.
According to legal experts, COVID-19, in many states, falls into a long-standing category of diseases like a cold or the flu not covered by workers’ compensation. On the contrary, workers in some other states will have to prove that they caught the virus at work, not from a family member or community.
They further suggest that this is compelling people from all walks of the society to risk their lives every day, not just doctors, nurses and first responders. Judging by this, a Democratic lawmaker from the state of Michigan proposed a bill to make essential workers eligible for workers’ compensation and ensure that the process is seamless. In at least 16 states, including Puerto Rico, officials have proposed measures that’ll make it easier for workers infected with COVID to qualify for benefits for lost wages, hospital bills or death.
According to industry analysts, many of the proposed actions would turn the tables on the status quo, compelling employers to prove that workers did not contract the virus at work. Bills significantly vary in the scope of workers they cover. Some protect all who left home to work during stay-at-home orders, while others are often limited to first responders and healthcare workers.
An early glimpse of data revealed that healthcare workers and first responders (the two groups that have suffered the most due to the virus) are the most seeking the benefits. According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 95,000 healthcare workers have been infected with COVID-19. A report in Guardian suggested that more than 700 have already died due to the virus. Undeniably, the stakes of the pending workers’ compensation law are massive.
In Virginia, attorney Michele Lewane is representing a nurse and a physician assistant who contracted the Coronavirus while at work. The physician assistant, who administered COVID tests, was hospitalized with COVID-19 and pneumonia for about a week. He was not able to attend work for more than five weeks. When he asked the care center for paperwork for filing a workers’ compensation claim to cover his hospital bill, he was refused. The authorities stated that Coronavirus treatment isn’t covered.
COVID-19 is considered as a common disease for life, similar to cold or flu in the state. So, it’s essential to prove by convincing evidence that the virus was caught at work. The bar is so high that the chances for the claim to get accepted are low. The workers desperately hope that Virginia joins many other states passing laws making it easier for health workers to prove their cases.
In Montana, which was more or less spared by the pandemic, workers are at a far graver threat. A 64-year old nurse, hospitalized for eight days with COVID-19 in April, filed for a workers’ compensation claim to be eligible for $800 a week in lost wages plus lifetime coverage of medical bills.
The insurance company declined to pass her claim and offered a one-time payment of $17,000, which she declined as it’d not even cover her medical bills. Moreover, the burden to prove that she/ he got contaminated with the virus while working is with her as the employee.
In New Jersey, attorney Rick Rubenstein is representing the case of a widow who used to work as a housekeeper at a nursing home. Not given protective gear, he got contaminated with COVID-19 and ultimately died. A bill has been proposed in the state that’ll make it easy for emergency workers infected with COVID-19 to prove that they got it on the job.
The bill was passed by the state Senate and is pending before the General Assembly. However, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association has opposed the bill, saying it would push higher workers’ compensation insurance rates onto businesses struggling due to lower sales and revenue.
The cost of covering 9.6 million first responders and health workers could range anywhere between USD 1 to USD 16 Billion, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which provides insurance rate recommendations for 38 states. The bill is paid by employers who pay workers’ compensation insurance employers that self-insure, and taxpayers supporting the government agencies.
Here was a detailed report on families of health workers who died due to COVID and were denied workers’ compensation benefits in some of the major states of the United States. Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comment section and let us know the steps you think the Federal Government should take to help the frontline warriors.