State lawmakers are considering a costly expansion of the workers' compensation system by adding a presumption that employees with COVID-19 contracted the virus while working.

The legislature's Labor and Public Employees and Insurance and Real Estate committees held a near six-hour hearing on the issue June 17.

"We've got to find a middle ground." CBIA's Joe Brennan testifies at the June 17 hearing.

Advocates are pushing lawmakers to add the presumption to state workers' compensation statutes if the legislature meets in a proposed special session next month.

Connecticut law currently allows workers' compensation claims for COVID-19 if a claimant shows contracting the disease was related to their occupation and occurred during the course of employment.

However, adding the presumption would result in a significant increase in workers' compensation costs and lead to an increase in inefficiencies and delays in an otherwise efficient system.

It would substantially hike workers' compensation costs for employers at a critical time, with businesses struggling to recover from pandemic-related shutdown orders and restrictions.

Under scenarios presented by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, workers' compensation costs could more than double.

Balanced Approach

CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan called for a balanced approach that addressed the needs of frontline healthcare workers without upending Connecticut's workers' compensation system.

"We've got to find a middle ground," Brennan told the hearing. "We've got to find that balance between taking care of people on the front lines that are providing good care to COVID patients but we can't accept that anybody that gets COVID is going to be a workers' comp case.

"I think that's going to be extremely problematic for the system."

New York abandoned a proposal after changes were projected to cost the state $31 billion.

Only six states have passed legislation creating a presumption of coverage for COVID-19 claims, with eight other states issuing executive or emergency orders.

Other states that considered adding a coverage presumption abandoned proposals because of cost.

New York, for example, abandoned a proposal after changes were projected to cost the state's workers' compensation system $31 billion—losses that would ultimately have been passed to employers.

Executive Order

While Connecticut advocates have called on Gov. Ned Lamont to issue an executive order, he has not done so.

"He supports the existing workers' comp system," a spokesperson for the governor told the Hartford Courant. "We're not advocating any change in the short term."

Brennan noted that Connecticut's workers' compensation system—which underwent significant reforms in the early 1990s—is working, with a steady decline in workplace injuries and claims and lower medical costs per claim in recent years.

"We are essentially taking a system that has been working well and completely blowing it up."

CBIA's Joe Brennan

"That system has stayed in place because it works," he said. "What we are doing [by adding the presumption] is essentially taking a system that has been working well and completely blowing it up.

"For people that are treating COVID patients directly, yes, we've got to find a way to make sure those people are appropriately taken care of.

"I don't think there is any question about that, and we're happy to work on any legislation with you to try to make that happen, but we also have to worry about the law of unintended consequences."

'Major Harm'

Workers' Compensation Trust president and CEO Diane Ritucci told the hearing the workers' compensation system was not designed to respond to a global pandemic or non-occupational exposure claims.

She warned that if the burden of COVID-19 claims was shifted to the workers' compensation system, major harm would be done to the system and Connecticut employers. 

Less than 4% of all COVID-19 related claims filed in the last three months led to hearing requests.

"For those who have a direct exposure in the workplace, the workers' comp system will take care of those claims," she said.

Ritucci noted that federal relief programs, including coronavirus-related paid sick and family medical leave, have helped address many worker concerns.

State Workers' Compensation Commission chair Stephen Morelli said that less than 4% of all COVID-19 related claims filed in the last three months led to hearing requests.


 For more information, contact CBIA's Brian Corvo (860.244.1169).