Hortman, Winkler Address COVID-19 Response; Lawmakers Approve Workers Compensation Bill for First Responders
State lawmakers approved legislation Tuesday to help first responders, police, firefighters, nurses, doctors, and other health care providers with workers compensation claims for COVID-19. The Minnesota House vote was 130-4.
The bill, HF-4537, was taken up during an unusual floor session with lawmakers calling in remotely and other lawmakers socially distancing themselves in legislative chambers. The Minnesota Senate later approved the measure 67-0.
Local lawmakers addressed the bill Tuesday morning with CCX News and other media outlets.
“If we don’t pass this bill today, they will not have protection tomorrow,” said Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. “We will figure out the costs.”
The legislation would make it easier for health care workers and first responders to receive compensation claims. However, lawmakers must still figure out the costs and how to pay for them.
COVID-19 Workers Compensation Cost Estimates Vary
The most likely cost projection is around $320 million for COVID-19 workers compensation claims. But that could go up to $580 million under a worst-case scenario, says Winkler. The Minnesota Department of Commerce and the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry are putting together cost projections.
“We will continue to work at it to make sure that we are being responsible and distributing the costs out of this proposal to as much of the state as possible so no one group is hit too hard by this cost,” said Winkler.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, says federal money could also be used for workers compensation claims. She pointed to the $1.87 billion that Minnesota expects to receive through the federal CARES Act.
“We owe a duty to these folks and we will find a way to pay for it,” said Hortman.
A Doctor’s Note Will Suffice
Under the bill, first responders and health care providers won’t have to prove through a court of law or through the workers compensation system where they contracted COVID-19. That’s different compared to other workers comp claims where workers must establish how they got a disease or injury through their employment.
“We are treating COVID-19 differently than we treat an occupational disease normally,” said Hortman.
If a test for COVID-19 is unavailable, a doctor or health care provider can provide a written statement for purposes of proof.
A Lot of Unknowns
There are several unknowns with the legislation, such as how many first responders will get COVID-19. There’s also disagreement between DFL and Republican leaders on payment options, though Hortman is confidant that can be worked out.
“It’s really important that the workers compensation system be sound and stable for all the workers that rely on it,” said Hortman.
So far, workers comp claims for COVID-19 are quite low, Winkler said. A recent model published by The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation pointed to Minnesota reaching peak cases April 23 with deaths peaking on April 26.