Although there are 30.2 million small businesses operating in the U.S., many have been forced to close (either temporarily or for good) because of the coronavirus pandemic. But even though millions of U.S. residents have filed for unemployment since March, many American workers are still gainfully employed and have been required to travel to the job site throughout this health crisis. Now, thousands of men and women in Florida — many of them medical workers on the frontlines — have filed workers’ compensation claims after contracting COVID-19. The problem? Insurance providers are refusing to pay them.
Although approximately 80% of those who become infected with COVID-19 recover without special treatment, the Sunshine State has been a hotspot for coronavirus transmission and hospitalizations. With 3.8 million Florida residents out of work, essential workplaces like medical facilities and grocery stores have remained open while cases have climbed to new heights.
As a result, thousands of Floridians have contracted the virus and have subsequently attempted to file workers’ comp claims related to COVID-19. According to official data, roughly 12,000 workers’ compensation claims, 65% of which involve healthcare workers and first responders, have been filed as of the end of July. Thousands of other coronavirus workers’ compensation claims were filed by service workers. But more than 43% of indemnity claims related to coronavirus were denied. Approximately 62% of those denials were made by private insurers that cover Floria residents.
Since 2004, workers’ compensation law reforms have made it more difficult for injured workers to obtain medical treatment and benefits. According to Bill Herrle, the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Florida, the denials should come as no surprise. Herrle, in a statement, explained private businesses need to be held to different standards of workers’ compensation benefits than public agencies; public agencies employ many first responders who have applied for these benefits.
The report in question doesn’t include medical-only claims; instead, the data pertains to indemnity claims, which are characterized by work injuries that last for days and show eligibility to recoup lost wages. So far, one-third of states have already enacted presumptions in favor of workers’ comp coverage for certain employees — particularly front-line healthcare workers and first responders. However, Florida’s current presumption applies only to members of the National Guard and state employees. Business organizations have been urging Governor Ron DeSantis or the State Legislature to take action on pandemic-related liability issues. For now, there have been widespread refusals to act.
Sadly, this leaves many Floridians without satisfactory protection. Despite the fact that insurance companies in Florida have paid out $4.1 million for over 6,500 claims that have already been closed, that figure includes denied claims. Another $9 million in payments have been made by insurers on the more than 5,000 claims that remain open. With so many claims denied and no end in sight for the pandemic, it’s unclear as to what other hardships workers here might continue to face.