The question of “How long?”* echoed through the writings of our ancestors across the centuries as they tried to deal with the trials of this world. That was before long COVID-19 (LC) came into our lives. Now, that question takes on a serious clinical edge, especially when LC intersects workers’ compensation.
The good folks and demon researchers at the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) have been looking into this very question in their new report, Long COVID in the Workers’ Compensation System Early in the Pandemic (free to WCRI members and available for a fee to non-members**). Roughly 7% of initial COVID-19 cases encountered in the workers’ compensation system have matured into LC, so this development merits our attention, especially when we reflect that COVID-19 itself doesn’t seem to be disappearing any time soon.
Let’s take a look at some of the study’s major findings:
- Variable severity—Most COVID-19 claims under compensation were indemnity only, with no medical care required, and these have been unlikely to develop LC complications. On the other hand, initial COVID-19 cases which involved hospitalization, especially an intensive care unit (ICU) stint, are much more likely to have lingering issues with LC.
- Claim expense—Contrary to initial expectations when COVID-19 first invaded our lives, the great majority of COVID-19-related compensation claims have been quite inexpensive. Still, LC cases cost ten times as much as the average COVID-19 claim in medical expenses and five times more in indemnity costs. For workers who required hospitalization, the average LC claim was in the area of $50K; it was around $150K for those who needed ICU care. Overall, COVID-19 compensation claims are best described as high frequency and low severity, except for a small number of large-dollar LC outliers.
- Symptoms—LC cases are most often characterized by lung problems, heart issues, and mental impacts. The best-known residual effect seems to be “COVID-19 fog,” best described as a dimming of overall mental acuity and rapidity of thought.*** The fog usually does lift, but it can take four or five months or even longer.
- Age and gender—LC’s frequency and severity increase with age. As we all noted back in 2020, COVID-19 itself was especially severe for older patients whose immune systems are often less robust than those of, well, kids. You know, folks under fifty. On the other hand, LC seems to be equally distributed between men and women.
This little summary does not do justice to the exemplary exploration of LC by WCRI’s Bogdan Savych. His study has a number of excellent charts and graphics that make this complex topic clear and compelling. Long COVID-19 seems to be settling in as one more common compensation problem. Not quite as important as lower back strains but much more than a footnote. Long COVID-19 especially calls for attention because it presents some unique RTW issues and immediate claim costs. COVID-19 fog, especially, is not a type of disability we are used to dealing with. This WCRI study is a big help towards better understanding this new animal in the compensation zoo.
A dreary late winter day when the last brittle leaves of fall are whipped across the dormant lawn by February’s chill winds is the perfect time to settle into your favorite reading chair with a cup of tea and a WCRI study. To complete the picture, we add a faithful greyhound curled up at our feet. Enjoy!
*The question occurs nine times in the Psalms alone, again in Revelations and Lamentations, and most eloquently in the Book of Habakkuk.
*** Our friend, Peter Rousmaniere, beautifully described the fog when he was felled by COVID-19 and then LC back in 2020. It is broadly debilitating because your thoughts are fuzzy and slip in and out of focus while moving ever so slowly and never seeming to come together.