The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week provided new data on the spread of COVID-19 that diverges sharply from past reports and is something health and workers compensation insurance providers will want to incorporate into their claims projections.
In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC says that between June and August the virus was most prevalent in people between the ages of 20 and 29, accounting for more than 20 percent of all confirmed cases. It went on to say that “across the southern United States in June 2020, increases in percentage of positive [COVID-19] test results among adults aged 20-39 years preceded increases among those aged ≥60 years” by between four and 15 days.
Most of the workforce
“This has profound implications for claims made against health insurance and workers comp,” says Dr. Steven N. Weisbart, CLU, Triple-I’s senior vice president and chief economist. “Early in the pandemic, COVID-19 was most common among adults age 70 or older – people who are mostly retired. Now, the CDC says, more than 50 percent of confirmed cases during the referenced period were among people between 20 and 49. This is the segment of the population that makes up most of the workforce and tends to have health and life insurance.”
They also are the most mobile portion of the population, more likely than the elderly and infirm to spread the infection to co-workers, friends, and family before they know they have it.
Indicating how significant the shift has been, Weisbart points out that in May the most affected age group was still 80 and older, with a case incidence of 4.04 per 1,000 population. In August the most affected age group was 20-29 (case incidence: 4.17 per 1,000).
“By August,” Weisbart says, “the case incidence of the 80-plus group was down to 2.61 per 1,000.”
Expanded workers comp coverage
The ultimate impact of the pandemic on workers compensation is still not clear. It generally doesn’t cover illnesses like a cold or flu because they can’t be tied to the workplace. Before the pandemic, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) says, at least 18 states had policies that presumed firefighters’ and other first responders’ chronic lung or respiratory illnesses are work-related and therefore covered.
Since the pandemic, some states have extended coverage to include health care workers and other essential employees. A common approach is to amend state policy so COVID-19 infections in certain workers are presumed to be work related. This puts the burden on the employer and insurer to prove the infection was not work-related, making it easier for workers to file successful claims.