Workers’ comp claims, especially COVID-19 cases, denied at record-high rates in recent years

By: - September 6, 2023 12:34 pm
construction workers

Construction workers mix concrete for a bridge in Minneapolis. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Employers and their insurance companies denied a record-breaking percentage of workers’ compensation claims in 2021 — even when you take COVID-19 cases out of the equation. 

COVID-19-related claims were denied more often — 39% in 2021 — than other claims, which were denied about 24% of the time, according to preliminary data from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. (The report cautions that the most recent data are less stable, and may be corrected over time.)

In the 20 years prior to the pandemic, claim denials peaked at 17%.

This year, the denial rate for COVID-19 claims is climbing even higher, although the number of claims related to COVID-19 have dropped in response to a change in state law.

A law enacted in April 2020 allowed some health care workers, first responders and corrections officers to receive workers compensation benefits for COVID-19 infections, presuming that those people were infected at work. In order to deny a claim, an employer and their workers’ comp insurance company had to prove that the employee contracted the virus outside of work.

Rep. Dan Wolgamott, DFL-St. Cloud, led the charge to extend that presumption beyond its initial expiration date of May 31, 2021.

After a couple extensions, the presumption expired this year on Jan. 13; since then, the number of COVID-19 claims filed by people in the previously-covered industries has bottomed out, according to DLI data. At the same time, a higher percentage of those claims are being denied. 

The presumption did not apply to some industries where COVID-19 was prevalent, like meatpacking. Workers struggled to prove they got sick from exposure at work — rather than from family or community exposure — despite the close quarters and insufficient safety measures of many of the plants. 

A February 2021 analysis of workers’ comp claims by the Star Tribune found that of 935 COVID-19-related claims filed by meatpacking workers, zero had resulted in payments to workers or their health care providers.

The DLI report did not provide an explanation for the increased denial rate for non-COVID-19 claims. DLI researcher Hared Mah warned that the data could change if DLI finds data reporting issues.

“We will have to wait for more data in 2022 and 2023 before we can say this is a trend,” Mah said.

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Madison McVan
Madison McVan

Madison McVan is a Report for America corps member who covers economic mobility for Minnesota Reformer. She previously covered agriculture for Investigate Midwest after graduating from the University of Missouri in 2020 with degrees in Journalism and Latin American studies.