COVID-19 workers’ compensation bill advances to House floor

    A Jan. 15 report from the Department of Labor and Industry found that through Dec. 23, 2020, the agency received 15,200 COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims. That compares with an annual average of 33,000 claims filed for all injuries and illnesses.

    A House committee on Monday approved legislation on an 18-8 vote that would extend a change in workers’ compensation protection for front-line workers who contract COVID-19 on the job. 

    Sponsored by state Rep. Dan Wolgamott, DFL-St. Cloud, the measure would extend the presumption for a qualified front-line worker who contracts COVID-19 until December 31.

    The current presumption, approved last year, is set to expire on May 1. 

    “We want to make sure we aren’t leaving our front-line workers out to dry,” Wolgamott said.

    With the vote, the measure can now advance to a full vote on the House floor.

    Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee asked why the Wolgamott proposal was advancing despite no movement for its companion bill in the Minnesota Senate.

    State Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, said a broader GOP-led bill in the House had support from the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council which includes representatives from businesses and workers. That legislation would make other changes to workers’ compensation, including extending the sunset date sought by Wolgamott. 

    A Jan. 15 report from the Department of Labor and Industry found that through Dec. 23, 2020, the agency received 15,200 COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims. That compares with an annual average of 33,000 claims filed for all injuries and illnesses. 

    The COVID-19 presumption applies to police officers, firefighters, paramedics, health care providers and others in front-line jobs. 

    More than a third of the claims were for lost time from work. The occupation most likely to file a COVID-19 workers’ compensation claim was nursing, followed by nursing assistants and vocational nurses. 

    The report also found that previous forecasts of claim counts and systems costs did not materialize.

    “In the early stages of the pandemic, many states and some national organizations, using the epidemiological pandemic models available from public health researchers, estimated costs could potentially overwhelm state workers’ compensation systems,” the report said. “At this time, claim counts and system costs have not yet reached the levels estimated earlier in 2020.”

    Moreover, COVID-19 claims have shorter claim durations and similar average costs compared to non-COVID-19 claims, the report says.

    Ricardo Lopez
    Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.