Presumptive workers’ compensation coverage for COVID-19 defeated in legislature


On June 10, a bill in the Colorado Senate (SB 20-216)—which would have granted a presumption of workers’ compensation coverage for certain essential workers who contract COVID-19—was killed by its sponsor because he could not secure enough votes to pass it.

The bill was part of a national wave of COVID-19-related presumptions for essential workers that has been building since March. While most of the early presumptions applied only to first responders and frontline healthcare workers, SB 216 would also have covered grocery workers, RTD drivers, janitorial workers, construction workers and a number of others.

Although Pinnacol strongly believes in caring for anyone who contracts COVID-19 on the job, we are already doing so under current law. This bill tried to turn the workers’ comp system into a public health safety net, and Pinnacol opposed it.

Current law says that, in order for an employee to claim workers’ comp for an infectious disease, that employee must demonstrate they contracted the disease in the course and scope of their employment. 

SB 216 would have flipped that burden of proof to the employer, who would now have to prove that the employee did not contract the disease on the job. It would also have required the employer to meet a higher standard of evidence than that required by the current law.

As is our custom, Pinnacol met on a number of occasions with the Workers’ Compensation Education Association (attorneys for injured workers) and the Colorado Self-Insurers Association to see if we could reach a negotiated agreement on the bill, as we have been able to do on many others. 

In this case, the cost impacts to employers were simply too great to overcome—especially to local governments, whose tax revenues have plummeted since the COVID-19 lockdown and which do not have the cushion to absorb significant new costs. As a responsible fiduciary for our policyholders, we had no choice but to oppose.

Pinnacol analyzed potential rate impacts of a somewhat shorter (though largely the same) list of essential workers based on our earlier conversations with WCEA. We estimated that rates would likely increase 27% if the presumption were spread across that entire list; if it applied only to first responders and frontline healthcare workers, rates for those employers would be triple the current rate (go up 200%).

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), which oversees workers’ comp rates, also estimated an approximately 27% rate impact on Colorado businesses. As you can imagine, with rate impacts like that, the business community and local government associations were greatly alarmed and advocated strongly against the bill.

Ultimately, it was those cost impacts that sank the bill. Although it passed out of its first committee on a party-line vote, once the bill moved to the Appropriations Committee it could not survive. 

That’s because it would also have increased costs to the state (state patrol, corrections and higher education would have been affected) at a time when the state is facing a $3 billion shortfall.

When the committee made clear they would not support the bill, the sponsor “postponed it indefinitely”—i.e., killed it himself—rather than allowing it to be defeated.

If you would like more information about this or any other legislative matters, please contact Edie Sonn, VP communications and public affairs, at edie.sonn@pinnacol.com or 720-201-7307.

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