COVID claims slow to a trickle as pandemic emergency ends

An end to the pandemic national emergency does not mean an end to COVID-19 workers compensation claims, but claim activity has decreased dramatically, experts say.

On April 10, President Joe Biden signed a resolution ending the national emergency related to the pandemic, which ended some temporary federal programming and waivers but left intact the public health emergency over the virus.

The reaction from the workers comp community on the declaration is mixed.

“That declaration should have no impact on whether or not work-related COVID claims are covered under workers comp,” said Jeff Eddinger, senior division executive with the Boca Raton, Florida-based National Council on Compensation Insurance.

When the pandemic began, many states passed laws creating temporary COVID-19 workers comp presumptions of compensability, but most of those measures have since expired.

California and Texas are the two remaining states with such presumptions. California extended its presumption through January 2024. The Texas presumption expires Sept. 1.

At the height of the pandemic, 20 states had COVID-19 or “infectious disease” presumptions for workers who were presumably exposed to the virus at work. Most of the claims came from health care workers and first responders, although claim activity was higher than expected among retail workers deemed “essential workers” in many states.

Jeff Adelson, an attorney with the Newport Beach, California-based law firm Adelson McClean, who represents employers and insurers, said claims are no longer a concern as they’ve decreased significantly.

“From my firm, we’re just not seeing them,” he said.

Last week, the California Workers’ Compensation Institute released figures showing a surge in COVID-19 claims between October and December of last year, but the count dropped sharply in January.

Illinois, which also had a presumption in place, has also seen a winding down in claim activity and litigation, according to attorney Rich Lenkov, of the Chicago firm Downey & Lenkov.

“I don’t think a lot of attorneys are taking these cases anymore, and certainly the ones who are taking these cases, they don’t appear to be taking it very far to the trial stage,” said Mr. Lenkov, a comp defense lawyer.

Mr. Eddinger said $400 million was paid out for COVID-19 claims in NCCI states in 2020 and $114 million in 2021.

The NCCI is now delving through 2022 numbers. “From what I’ve seen so far, it looks like a pretty large drop from 2021 to 2022,” Mr. Eddinger said, adding the total for this year is predicted to be even smaller.

Max Koonce, chief claims officer for Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., said that after a spike in January 2022, COVID-19 claims stabilized last year and the volume continued to diminish in the first quarter of this year.

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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