Just Thinking: Ebola and Workers’ Compensation

October 9, 2014 Insurance Topics 2

You know you’re a true workers’ comp junkie when you cannot hear the news without considering potential work-related implications.

Not long after Thomas Eric Duncan — the first known person to develop Ebola in the United States — died yesterday, a sheriff’s deputy involved with the case entered a hospital due to potential Ebola symptoms.

Just think of how many workers can be potentially exposed at their jobs should they come into contact with even one person who has Ebola. Medical providers from ambulance attendants, nurses and doctors to contractors, lab workers, police, border patrol officials, flight attendants and cleaning crew could theoretically be unknowingly exposed.

It is already a concern to employees. Nurses in the San Francisco have also expressed apprehension because they have not been properly trained to deal with Ebola. And after the CDC announced yesterday it will monitor passengers for Ebola at five major airports, airplane cleaning crews at LaGuardia Airport went on strike partly because they are concerned about being exposed to Ebola. 

But as I have pondered the potential Ebola crisis, I find myself having more questions than answers. While I personally have confidence there will not be a full blown Ebola epidemic here and I believe that public panic does no good, I do believe that workers will be effected before experts sort out how to combat the disease.

Just think of how many workers can be potentially exposed at their jobs should they come into contact with even one person who has Ebola.

My questions go beyond whether workers’ compensation will cover an employee who picks up Ebola during or in the course of employment. In principle, workers’ compensation should cover work-related exposure to Ebola as it does for HIV/AIDS. If for any reason, workers’ comp does not cover it, then there is always the tort system.

And really, many of questions are ultimately not just about Ebola, but any emerging illness that could warrant extra attention.

Below are some of my questions.

Regarding Prevention

  • What kind of workplace safety measures are needed that do not already exist for medical care providers?
  • Is the current personal protective equipment sufficient? The USAID is seeking more comfortable protective clothing. A Spanish doctor who started treatment on a nurse who contracted Ebola said the gear is too short and exposes skin
  • While the CDC and other experts insist that contracting Ebola through the air is highly unlikely, others disagree. Therefore, should workers wear face masks just in case? Viruses, after all, are live organisms that mutate.
  • If Ebola requires special training to prevent exposure, which agency will satisfy the workplace information employers need to know? Should employers turn to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the CDC itself?
  • When will this information be available to employers other than hospitals and clinics?

Regarding Ebola Treatment

  • If potential treatment medications are scarce, who will be the lucky ones chosen to receive it?
  • When treatment for Hepatitis C and AIDS costs more than $100,000 per patient, how much will Ebola treatment cost employers and insurers?

Regarding Workers’ Comp Case Management:

  • Knowing medical providers have already suffered from Ebola, do states and case managers need training to deal with any special considerations with Ebola cases?
  • Since Ebola is contracted and can lead to death in about a month – which is often less time than it takes for many workers to file workers’ compensation claims — will employers suddenly get better at encouraging immediate claim filing for better case management?
  • Will Ebola workers’ compensation claims be primarily retrospective?

Pondering Ebola or emerging disease and their effect on workers’ compensation? Please post your questions below. And, if you can answer any of my questions, please share them as well.

If you want to discuss these questions with me for another blog post, please write me at annmarie@lipoldcommunications.com.

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