COVID presumptions continue impacting workers’ comp

Among the havoc dished out by COVID-19 emerged two major hits on workers’ comp: A significant drop in net premiums written and presumptions covering workers that contracted the virus.

That’s according to Jeff Eddinger, senior division executive at the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), who tells “Specifically, net written premiums dropped 10% for calendar year 2020. This was impacted by the recession brought on by COVID.”

Eddinger says the question as to how long it will take premiums to recover in the workers’ comp sector is a major trend impacting the market. Another trend is the presumptions and the possibility of extensions or expansions of those regulations.

“NCCI is currently monitoring COVID-19 workers’ compensation presumption legislation in at least 20 states,” he says. “Many of the COVID-19 workers’ compensation presumptions are temporary in nature, meaning the presumption is applicable for a certain period of time or expires when the jurisdiction’s state of emergency ends.”
However, some states are taking additional action to extend and/or expand those presumptions, Eddinger notes.

For example, Illinois recently enacted legislation extending the COVID-19 presumption provisions through June 30, 2021. Further, Alaska, Minnesota and Wisconsin are considering legislation to extend their presumptions, expand the types of workers covered and/or apply the presumptions retroactively.

Emerging trends

Reviewing COVID-19 and related legislation proposed this year reveals three trends:

1. Expansion of fields covered: “While many of the bills we monitored in 2020 focused on establishing presumptions that were applicable primarily to first responders and/or healthcare workers, several of the current legislative proposals establish presumptions for additional categories of workers,” Eddinger says.

This includes legislation in Maryland, Minnesota and Texas that would establish presumptions for teachers and other school employees. Additionally, Connecticut and Iowa are considering expanding presumptions to all employees.

2. Beyond COVID: Further, several states are considering the establishment of workers’ compensation presumption that would stretch beyond the coronavirus pandemic. To date, 12 states have introduced such legislation, which would cover other infectious diseases and pandemics.

“While several of these bills specifically mention COVID-19, these proposals also contain terms such as ‘contagious disease,’ ‘COVID-19 or similar disease,’ or ‘other future qualifying pandemic,’” he explains. “This could mean that the presumption would still be applicable even after the current COVID-19 pandemic ends. Many of these proposals do not include sunset provisions or expiration dates, so they may not be temporary in nature.”

3. Exclusive remedy: Some states have brought up legislation that would make an exception for the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy, according to Eddinger.

For example, Hawaii is considering an exception to the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy when an employee, whose employer failed to maintain adequate workplace protections against exposure to COVID-19, contracts the virus. Additionally, the legislation would create a presumption that the coronavirus is proximately caused by a company’s failure to maintain adequate protection.

However, the bills in Hawaii do not set a legislative deadline and are unlikely to advance during this legislative session, according to Eddinger.

“Other states, including Arkansas and West Virginia, have also introduced legislation addressing COVID-19 and the exclusive remedy, providing that workers compensation is the exclusive remedy for COVID-19 claims,” he says.

This article was first published in Property Casualty 360.

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