Massachusetts businesses are in line to save on workers’ compensation insurance over the next year while efforts in the Legislature to expand the ability of workers to tap into those benefits for COVID-19 care appear to have hit a dead end.
As reported by Southcoast Today, workers’ compensation coverage for COVID-19 in Massachusetts is limited to situations in which “the hazard of contracting such diseases by an employee is inherent in the employment,” the attorney general’s office said, meaning health care workers like nurses are likely to be covered.
As of late August, officials in at least 15 states had passed legislation, issued executive orders or enacted other administrative policy changes to directly address workers’ compensation coverage of COVID-19, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Massachusetts, the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development this month put two workers’ compensation bills — H 4749 from New Bedford Rep. Chris Hendricks and H 4739 from Bedford’s Rep. Ken Gordon and Cambridge Rep. David Rogers — into a study order, effectively spelling the end of the line for those bills during this extended legislative session, as reported by Southcoast Today.
Hendricks wrote in May that he filed his bill “to fast-track workers compensation benefits for frontline health care workers during the COVID-19 crisis” and asked Gov. Charlie Baker to issue an executive order to streamline workers’ compensation claims and create a rebuttable presumption that any essential worker infected with COVID-19 contracted the virus while on the job.
“As the law stands today, front-line workers are already able to file workers compensation claims related to COVID-19 diagnoses. However, these employees will unfortunately have the burden of showing that the COVID-19 diagnosis was a result of their job. This will lead to insurance companies denying claims en masse, because – while it is obvious that these diagnoses are the result of being on the front-lines – it is nearly impossible to show where the COVID-19 molecule was actually ingested,” Hendricks wrote in a May letter to Baker. “In short, the current threshold will be too high for these workers. We owe it to them to ease this burden.”
Under Hendricks’ bill, as well as Gordon’s, infected frontline workers would become eligible for immediate wage relief in the form of 60 percent of their average weekly wage, as well as 100 percent of COVID-19-related medical care at Department of Industrial Accidents rates.
“During a time when our unemployment benefits system will be challenged in ways that we have never seen before, it is crucial that we ease that administrative burden by rightfully directing these cases into the workers’ compensation system,” Hendricks wrote.
The committee’s dismissal of the bills could keep the landscape steady for businesses, which stand to save on workers’ compensation insurance costs thanks to a recent state approval of rate with an average reduction of 6.8 percent.