October/November 2021  Volume 19, Number 5        
 

woman holding her face

Updates on “Long Haul COVID” Claims

According to some organizations, as many as 80% of COVID-19 patients will experience one or more long-term, persistent symptoms.

The Lasting Effects of Long Haul COVID

The clinicians at Emory Executive Park post-COVID clinic in Atlanta say one of the most common persistent symptoms of people who have recovered from COVID-19 is shortness of breath, which may suggest diminished lung function, although other causes such as pulmonary embolism, even after acute illness, may be contributing. Thanushi Wynn, MD has been caring for post-COVID follow-up patients from Emory Johns Creek Hospital and Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital. Wynn notes that some patients may be able to prevent chronic lung damage with timely treatment by an experienced pulmonologist.

However, the symptoms some COVID-19 survivors have been reporting extend beyond the pulmonary realm, indicating that viral infection has inflicted injury on other systems of the body. They include chest pain upon exertion, irregular heartbeats (cardiac arrhythmias), and dizziness or a racing heart when someone stands up after lying down (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome). In addition, a number of post-COVID patients are reporting loss of smell or taste, altered sensations in their limbs, chronic pain and/or brain fog (problems with memory, concentration or word-finding).

At Least $260 Million in 2020 COVID-19 Comp Cases

In 2020, there were more than 45,000 COVID-19 claims, with more than 95% costing less than $10,000, according to Jeff Eddinger, senior division executive for the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). Most of the claims closed quickly, and only about 1% surpassed $100,000. The total cost of 2020 claims in the 36 states where NCCI provides its services was $260 million, not including self-insureds.

Government Issues COVID-19 Disability and Accommodation Guidance

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS) have jointly issued guidance on COVID-19 disabilities. The guidance points out that while some people with mild or moderate COVID-19 can have symptoms that last about two weeks, others — long haulers — can be left with debilitating side effects, acknowledges the HHS.

Examples of situations where a COVID-19 long-hauler might be substantially limited in a major life activity would include, according to the DOJ and HHS:

  • Lung damage that causes shortness of breath, fatigue and related effects
  • Intestinal pain, vomiting and nausea that have lingered for months
  • Memory lapses and brain fog.

Regardless of whether employees with these symptoms are covered for workers compensation, they may also qualify for assistance under the ADA, though an individualized assessment is necessary.

In addition, employees who recover quickly from the disease and are not covered by the ADA may be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA provides certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that the employee be allowed to keep their group health benefits during the leave.

Accommodations

Any request for accommodation must provide an opportunity for the employee with a disability to achieve the same level of performance and to enjoy benefits equal to someone who doesn’t have a disability.

Reasonable requests for accommodating a disability can include:

  • Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by an individual with a disability
  • Restructuring a job
  • Modifying work schedules
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters
  • Modifying examinations, training, or other programs
  • Reassigning an employee to a vacant position they may be qualified for if they are unable to do their original job.

Whatever the accommodation, the employer does not have to provide any accommodation that creates an undue hardship on the business. For instance, employers are not required to lower quality or production standards as an accommodation; nor are they obligated to provide personal use items such as wheelchairs, prescription glasses or hearing aids.

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In this issue:

This Just In...

OSHA Urges Employers to Require Vaccinations

Updates on “Long Haul COVID” Claims

Mental Health Recognized as Significant Workplace Issue

Workers Comp Basics: Disability Apportionment

 

 


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