In April Anderson came down with what he thought was a cold, according to family lawyer David Stern. On April 13, he was rushed to hospital, where he died of Covid-19 acute respiratory distress syndrome, according to the county coroner. He left behind a wife and two children aged five and nine.
Anderson has been exposed to the virus at work, says the lawyer, making his family eligible for workers’ compensation benefits paid by his employer’s insurer.
“His family deserves that this income be replaced,” said Stern. “Their husband and father certainly cannot be.”
But in a June 16 response to Stern’s request for death benefits, the St Mary’s medical center denied all of the allegations.
As Covid-19’s death toll rises, sick workers and the families of the dead face yet another burden: struggling to gain benefits from workers’ compensation systems imposed in some states.
In interviews with lawyers and families across the country, KHN found that healthcare workers – including nurses’ aides, medical assistants and maintenance workers – were faced with refusals or long-term chances of getting benefits. In some cases, these services are equivalent to an ambulance bill. In others, they would provide a lifetime salary replacement for a spouse.
Legal experts say that in some states, Covid-19 belongs to a category of long-standing illnesses like the common cold or the flu – conditions not covered by workers’ compensation – with no plan to change that. Other states require workers to prove they got the virus at work, rather than from a family member or the community.
“We are asking people to risk their lives every day – not just doctors, nurses and first responders, but also nurses’ aides and grocery clerks,” said Laurie Pohutsky, a Michigan Democrat MP who introduced a bill to help essential workers get coverage more easily. “These people are heroes, but we really need to support these words with action. ”
In at least 16 states and Puerto Rico, authorities have taken steps to make it easier for workers infected with coronavirus to receive compensation for lost wages, hospital bills, or death. Similar bills are pending in other states, but some are facing opposition from business groups over costs.
Many of the proposed measures would reverse the status quo, requiring employers to prove that workers do not catch the virus at work. Bills vary depending on the scope of workers they cover. Some protect all those who have worked on site during orders for a stay at home. Others are limited to first responders and health care workers. Some would only cover workers who fall ill during states of emergency, while others would cover a longer period.
A first look at the data shows that healthcare workers and first responders, two groups hard hit by the virus, make up the majority of those seeking benefits. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 95,000 healthcare workers have been infected, a figure recognized by the agency as an undercoverage. KHN and The Guardian have identified more than 780 dead and have paid tributes to 139 of them to date.
The cost of covering the country’s 9.6 million first responders and health workers nationwide could range from $ 1 billion to $ 16 billion, according to the National Compensation Insurance Council, which provides recommendations for insurance rates for 38 states. The bill is paid by employers who buy workers’ compensation insurance, employers who self-insure, and taxpayers, who support government agencies.
These estimates do not include New York or California, where Governor Gavin Newsom’s decree extending coverage until July 5 is expected to cost approximately $ 1.2 billion.
In May, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth and a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would create a federal fund for essential workers, including health workers, who fall ill or die from coronavirus. The pandemic compensation law would be inspired by the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.
In Pennsylvania, where Anderson worked, there is no presumption that Covid-19 is acquired on the job.
Anderson’s lawyer, Stern, filed a “fatal complaint” in May with the state workers’ compensation board, which forwarded it to the employer.
A spokesperson for the St Mary’s Medical Center confirmed in an email that Anderson had worked there for 23 years and was a maintenance mechanic. She did not want to discuss her case. “We are extremely saddened by his death,” she wrote.
Mark Banchi has volunteered with hospital chaplains and has known Anderson for over 30 years. He said co-workers were shocked by the death of a man who “was enthusiastic, gregarious, friendly”.
“His loss to the hospital is real,” said Banchi. “Some people cheer up, some people make you happy to be there that day, and Mike was one of them. ”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a non-profit news service covering health issues. This is an independent editorial program of the Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.