Medical suppliers, first responders, get expanded entry to COVID-19 employees’ compensation | Information

Courtesy Virginia Mercury

Virginia frontline workers scored a victory on Saturday as the General Assembly almost unanimously passed two bills that made life easier for health care providers and first responders Demand employee compensation for engaging COVID-19 in the workplace.

The problem – a long-standing worker concern during the pandemic – initially sparked a showdown between the House of Representatives and the Senate on the potential cost of the legislation and whether it should be applied retrospectively. Legislators involved in the negotiations said they would have to recruit former Governor Terry McAuliffe, who is seeking Democratic nomination for his old job, to broker a deal with Senate majority leader Dick Saslaw, D-35, of Fairfax.

“We threw a hail, Mary,” said Del. Chris Hurst, D-12 health care provider. Both his bill and one similar measure sponsored by Del. Jay Jones, D-89th, of Norfolk, would have allowed vendors and first responders to file retrospective claims March 12th last year – as Governor Ralph Northam did one for the first time Emergency about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate version The Jones bill, sponsored by Saslaw, initially contained a clause that made it retroactive to March 1, 2020. However, the Senate committees ultimately stripped all three measures of retroactive effect after the state’s Department of Planning and Budget warned that the tax implications were “indefinite”.

Above all, have towns long argued Dating the bill to March could result in hundreds of additional COVID-19 claims from their employees who are now believed to have contracted the virus while at work. This is a financial burden that they – and their insurers – are not prepared to bear, argued representatives from cities and districts.

“Local governments and term insurers have not extended liability to cover additional suspicions related to COVID-19,” said Jeremy Bennett, director of interstate affairs for the Virginia Association of Counties, during a committee hearing last month, adding that it could have a “multi-million dollar effect”.

“We don’t yet know if the number of infections will continue to increase or when the vaccine against the virus will be fully distributed to first responders,” he said. “Additionally, the unknown latent effects of COVID-19 are still under investigation and could potentially impact medical rewards for lifelong workers.”

Without a retrospective clause, the legislation would only apply to claims filed on or after July 1, 2021 when both bills go into effect. Proponents say this wouldn’t offer much protection to the frontline workers – most of them will already be vaccinated by this point.

“For any nurse or health care provider that has signed up for COVID, it feels like nobody cares about you if you can’t go back and claim worker compensation,” said Holly Zimmerman, a nurse who worked on the Virus fell seriously ill in late July while working at a Patrick County nursing home.

“I heard the argument about the financial requirements on the system – that the staff didn’t pay,” she added. “And it makes me angry. I think you put money before people’s lives. “

Both Jones and Hurst also disagreed with the estimate that Jones said virtually every eligible employee should receive the benefits and be rewarded. But it created a barrier in the Senate, where Saslav continued to be concerned about the potential cost.

“I figured I’d have to reach out to people who had his ear and got his attention,” said Hurst. Saslaw didn’t respond to a request for comment, but McAuliffe’s office said there were several calls to the senator to try to reach a compromise.

For healthcare workers, the result has been full retroactive effect dating back to March 12th. Final billing is limited to providers directly involved in “diagnosing or treating” COVID-19 patients and does not apply to employees who refuse a COVID-19 vaccine unless a doctor decides to do so would endanger his health.

The legislation also stipulates that any worker who files a lawsuit must have been officially diagnosed with the virus. For claims dated prior to July 1, 2020, the diagnosis may come from a positive test and symptoms that require medical attention, or symptoms alone – reflecting the lack of testing in the early days of the pandemic, Hurst said.

Any claim after July 1 will require diagnosis through a positive test and symptoms requiring medical attention. Brent Rawlings, senior vice president of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, described the requirements as “appropriate guardrails” that helped the association do the math.

“We struggle with guesswork, but we know the challenge of COVID-19 for our healthcare workers,” he said during a committee hearing in January.

The bill will make workers’ compensation more accessible to thousands of frontline healthcare workers by classifying COVID-19 as an occupational disease. Without this assumption, the virus is called “ordinary sickness of life“Similar to the flu. Lawyers say it is next to impossible to be eligible for benefits unless employees can clearly demonstrate that they contracted the virus while at work.

VACORP – the state largest insurer for counties and local authorities – “and other insurance companies say” clear and convincing evidence, “which is basically almost as much as” beyond doubt, “” said Mike Beste, a Richmond workers’ compensation attorney, in an interview earlier this year. According to the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, a total of more than 1,100 COVID-19 claims have been filed since the pandemic began only 276 were awarded.

However, when COVID-19 is classified as occupational, the burden shifts to the employer to prove that the illness did not occur at work. Zimmerman said the benefits would provide a lifeline. She contracted the virus in late July after caring for the first resident at her facility who died from it.

Since then she has suffered with me lLong term symptoms including shortness of breath and difficulty concentrating which she says were unable to work. Her immediate symptoms were three grand mal seizures and a severe respiratory infection that grossed over $ 30,000 in hospital bills.

Zimmerman said she was qualified for medical assistance and grocery stamps but currently has no source of income other than the $ 375 a month she bills her roommate for rent.

“At least now I can go back and say, ‘Look, I got that at work. I need help, ”she said. “Financially, I will never go back to where I was. But at least I would have support in trying to restore financial security. “

The General Assembly has estimated benefits of $ 2 million for civil servants in the expectation that the retroactive effect would be included in both bills. However, the final agreement on the Jones and Saslaw legislation only extends the presumption until September 1.

In most other respects it is very similar to Hurst’s. The bill applies to firefighters, rescue workers, law enforcement and correction officers, including regional prison workers. It requires an official diagnosis through a positive COVID-19 test and symptoms of the disease.

“Sept. I was as far back as the Senate was ready to go and I would have rather had something than nothing, ”said Jones, who was filing his first version of the invoice during the special session of the General Assembly last autumn.

This legislation, which involved medical providers and teachers, died in a Senate committee after similar concerns were raised about the potential cost.

Expanding access to workers’ compensation has been a priority for many first responders, especially emergency responders, who reported having been asked to respond frequently to homes and medical facilities without being notified of COVID-19 cases (including state lawmakers has passed this) an invoice from Del. Lashrecse AirdD-63rd from Petersburg, requiring the Virginia Department of Health to develop a system for sharing this information in real time.

“One of the first COVID cases we looked at in the Commonwealth was someone responding to a car accident,” said Brian Hricik, president of the Virginia Association of Governmental EMS Administrators. “They had no suspicion that the person they were responding to had COVID. And then suddenly they get a call saying, “You know the patient you brought to the hospital? You have tested positive. ‘”

The EMS provider also tested positive for COVID-19 in March, Hricik said. These early cases prompted first responders to advocate retroactive action – especially for volunteer firefighters and rescue workers who are not receiving work-related health benefits.

“Some feedback is better than none,” he added. “But I am disappointed in those who were affected early on.”

However, Jones said House lawmakers still haven’t given up hope of extending the guess to March. One way is to work with Northam to amend the bill and bring it back to the vote during the April General Assembly re-convened session.

“We haven’t given up the ghost yet,” he said.

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