In California, an amended bill was introduced to allow “critical workers” who were sick with COVID-19 to file workers’ compensation claims under specific circumstances with their employers. The bill does not yet explicitly identify who will be considered a “critical worker.” The bill would create a disputable presumption that the illness was the result of an employment injury. Another amended bill was introduced that would create a conclusive presumption for first responders and front-line health workers but only if the state or local government has declared a state of emergency.
THE FORCE AWAKENS
Gov. Gavin Newsom is contemplating issuing an executive order that would make it easier for “essential workers” to apply and receive workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19. Some businesses are concerned that the executive order would create a rebuttable presumption or a conclusive presumption. The U.S. Chamber issued an open letter to Newsom on its concerns and offered suggestions and other options before he makes a decision.
NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS
The California Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) issued a research brief entitled “Cost Evaluation of Potential Conclusive COVID-19 Presumption in California Workers’ Compensation” after the Assembly Insurance Committee requested the WCIRB look into the cost of a conclusive presumption. The WCIRB estimates the annual cost of COVID-19 for essential critical infrastructure employees under a conclusive presumption ranges from $2.2 billion to $33.6 billion with an approximate mid-range estimate of $11.2 billion, or 61% of the annual estimated cost of the total workers’ compensation system prior to the impact of the pandemic.
THIS IS THE WAY
The WCIRB also submitted proposed rule changes to the Insurance Commissioner for approval to help employers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed rule changes include: exclusion from experience rating of workers’ compensation claims directly arising from a diagnosis of COVID-19; reclassification of employees whose modified duties meet the definition of clerical office employees; and exclusion of payments made to non-working employees. We’ll keep watching the Golden State for changes related to COVID-19.
Food Supply Chain
In a full-page advertisement and blog post on Sunday, a major meat supplier warned that the food supply chain is “breaking” and “vulnerable.” A number of meat processing plants have become hotspots of coronavirus outbreaks among workers. More than a dozen plants have closed for some period of time during the pandemic. The CDC and OSHA came out with recommendations on Sunday evening to give employers and workers in the meat processing industry guidance to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order to mandate meat processing plants to stay open amid concerns over growing coronavirus cases and the impact on the nation’s food supply. The order uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to keep production plants open and prevent a shortage of chicken, pork, and other meat. The order is designed to protect companies from liability if workers end up getting sick. There are over 100,000 workers in the meat processing industry.
Making Our Way Around the Country
Gov. J.B. Pritzker will be issuing an extension of the stay-at-home order to remain in place through May 30. The extension will require people to cover their faces in most public settings and will also allow some businesses and state parks to reopen beginning May 1. It will also allow some elective surgeries to begin. On Monday, a southern Illinois judge blocked Pritzker’s 30-day extension of the state’s stay-at-home order and granted a temporary restraining order sought by a state lawmaker. The ruling only applies to Rep. Bailey. The Workers’ Compensation Commission on Monday also repealed a rule change that would have created a rebuttable presumption for COVID-19 claims. This comes after a judge granted a temporary restraining order that blocks the WCC from using the rule. Chairman Michael Brennan stated two major reasons to withdraw the rule are the cost of litigation and the uncertainty of the rule moving forward. We’ll see if something will move forward through an executive order or through the legislature as more states aim to expand workers’ compensation coverage for COVID-19.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government has to pay $12 billion to insurance companies, money that was promised in the Affordable Care Act as part of the start-up costs in the first three years of its existence. The ACA limited profits and losses for insurance companies in the first three years of the program. Some companies that made more money than allowed by the formula had to pay some back to the government, while other companies lost money and were owed money by the government under the formula. This is the third decision by the Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act.
MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU
To help commemorate May the 4th, Disney is releasing the newest Star Wars movie early to its streaming channel next week. If you’re interested in space, you might want to check the recently declassified Navy videos that purportedly show UFOs. Let's keep maintaining space and keeping others safe through social distancing. Stay safe, stay well.