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COVID-19 Deemed a Compensable Injury by the Legislature in Minnesota

Written by: Peter Skaily, Esq.

There has been extensive literature published in the past few weeks across the United States explaining the reasons that COVID-19 is (for most, if not all, states) not a covered “accident” and “injury” under the given state’s workers’ compensation laws.

However, on April 7, 2020, the Minnesota Legislature removed all ambiguity on whether certain groups’ contraction of the COVID-19 virus is a compensable injury. Specifically, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill on April 7, 2020 that deemed COVID-19 a compensable injury for first responders, health care workers, and daycare workers up and until May 1, 2020. Furthermore, there is no causation requirement for the individuals that fall within one of the three aforementioned positions. In other words, first responders, health care workers, and daycare workers do not have to show they contracted the COVID-19 virus in the scope of their employment. In fact, the bill only requires the infected individual to show lab tests showing the individual is positive for COVID-19 from the licensed health care provided that diagnosed the individual with COVID-19. While Minnesota appears to be the first state to pass such legislation, many other states seem to be considering similar legislation at this time.

As of April 7, 2020, the State of Minnesota reportedly had approximately 1,069 total COVID-19 cases since the virus’ outbreak in the United States. However, there were only 486 active cases of the 1,069 total cases. On this same date, the State of Minnesota had only reported 34 deaths due to the COVID-19 virus since it was first reported in the United States. Of note, the Minnesota Department of Public Health confirmed at least 173 health care had contracted the COVID-19 virus as well. With all of this being said, as of April 7, 2020, the peak of the COVID-19 cases in Minnesota was estimated to be April 18, 2020.

In support of Minnesota’s recently passed bill, Sen. Jeremy Miller opined, “[t]hese workers on the front lines will have one less thing to worry about when they are at work taking care of Minnesotans.” While this is undeniably the case, it begs the question of who will the fund the legal rights these employees now have in the workers’ compensation system. Minnesota’s House Majority leader Ryan Winkler reportedly estimated the medical treatment could cost between $320 million and $580 million. As a lobbyist for League of Minnesota Cities reportedly stated, “local governments will have no choice but to pass along the costs to property taxpayers at a time when they can least afford it.” In the private sector, the employer, workers’ compensation insurer, and self-insurers will bear the  great burden of this cost, as well.

As other states consider similar legislation, there are numerous points that need to be considered. As previously mentioned, employers, insurers, and self-insurers, will bear the brunt of the cost associated with this bill and will have to allocate significantly more funds towards these COVID-19 claims than they planned on in 2019. This could significantly impact self-insurers, who are likely affected by the financial impact of the COVID-19 virus already. Furthermore, as a practical matter, many hospitals will likely end up treating the healthcare workers that contract the COVID-19 at the hospital in which they are employed. In this scenario, the hospital would not receive payments from the healthcare workers’ personal insurance policy, but instead end up funding the Claimant’s medical treatment through their funds allocated to workers’ compensation patients, or possibly under the state’s workers’ compensation fee schedule. Obviously, any reduction of payments due to fee schedule reductions  will negatively impact the hospitals financially as well. Along these same lines, in the minority of states which allow the employer input into who treats workers’ compensation injuries, employers, insurers, and self-insurers will likely lose control over the treating physicians when the individual immediately reports to the hospital for costly emergency treatment, depending on the State’s particular laws.

On the other hand, employers, insurers, and self-insureds will be able to limit their exposure to various civil lawsuits brought by first responders, health care workers, and daycare workers because their claim falls under the workers’ compensation system. Furthermore, the bill will undeniably allow individuals in one of the three aforementioned groups on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 virus to continue working throughout the pandemic without any concerns of paying for their medical treatment (if they contract the COVID-19 virus) because their medical treatment would be covered by the workers” compensation system.

At this time, there remains a great amount of uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 virus, as different patients report different symptoms with differing levels of severity. As states wrestle with this uncertainty, employers, insurers, and self-insurers should be advised to monitor their specific state’s handling of these particular groups receiving medical treatment as it is related to the workers’ compensation system.

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