As the coronavirus ravaged the country last spring and sick or quarantined employees filed workers’ compensation claims, Massachusetts experienced the highest share of COVID-related claims among 27 states studied by the Workers Compensation Research Institute in Cambridge.
In a report released Thursday, the WCRI found that from April to June, 42 percent of all claims paid for medical care or lost wages in Massachusetts were related to COVID. In New Jersey, the state with the next-highest rate, 34 percent of workers’ compensation claims involved COVID; in South Carolina and Kansas, just 1 percent of claims were COVID-related.
A number of factors play into the high rate of COVID claims here, according to the WCRI. Massachusetts was one of the hardest-hit states at the time, with more than 1,000 deaths per million people. The vast majority of claims nationwide were in the health care industry, and in Massachusetts three-quarters of the COVID workers’ compensation claims were at long-term-care facilities, hospitals, and medical offices — the highest rate in the country, compared to just 8 percent in South Carolina.
Massachusetts also experienced a 50 percent drop in non-COVID-related claims — the largest among the states studied — compared to the second quarter of 2019, as unemployment skyrocketed and more people worked from home, leading to a drop in on-the-job injuries and an increase in the ratio of claims pertaining to COVID.
People fearful for their job security also may have been reluctant to rock the boat by filing a workers’ compensation claim. And people who avoided leaving their homes to seek medical care during the crisis, or had difficulty scheduling an appointment, could have further added to the dip in non-COVID claims.
“The pandemic struck very hard in the Massachusetts system at that time, and it’s reflected in the high fraction of COVID claims,” said John Ruser, a coauthor of the study and chief executive of WCRI. “It also shows that the shutdown and other factors that impacted workers’ compensation claims, like reluctance to go to a doctor’s office or difficulties finding a doctor, or working from home, had a big impact in the drop in non-COVID claims in Massachusetts.”
The Massachusetts workers’ compensation system also includes a “pay without prejudice” feature that allows insurers to make a payment before the claim is actually accepted. This probably also added to the high share of COVID claims in the state, Ruser said.
The pandemic also led to a larger share of claims involving people out of work for more than seven days. In Massachusetts, which had the biggest overall increase in these so-called “lost-time” claims between the spring of 2019 and 2020, 59 percent were COVID-related — the highest rate found.
The WCRI did not calculate the costs associated with workers’ compensation claims for COVID cases, as it can take time to fully cover medical care and lost wages, but it has plans to do so.