The 2021 SAWCA All Committee Conference kicked off with a panel of regulators discussing some of the challenges they are facing in their state agencies. The participating states were CO, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, MO, SC, TN, TX, VA and WI.
Do you have COVID-19 claims that have litigated to conclusion in your state?
- Colorado – Only a handful of claims have litigated through the hearing process, and most of those were ultimately denied.
- Florida – There are a small number of COVID-19 claims in litigation currently.
- Georgia – There are no COVID-19 presumptions in the state. Only two COVID-19 claims have been presented to administrative law judges. The litigation on these claims has not concluded.
- Kentucky – There were COVID-19 presumptions for a variety of workers that were created under executive order. The legislature recently nullified that order. They created an expedited hearing process to handle any COVID-19 claims that are disputed.
- Louisiana – No COVID-19 presumptions have been introduced and there have not been any claims litigated through the system.
- Maryland – A handful of COVID-19 claims have been litigated in the courts. In most of these cases, the claims were awarded.
- Mississippi – There are no COVID-19 presumptions. There are currently 12 cases working through the system on the issue of compensability.
- Missouri – No decisions have been issued on COVID-19 claims, and there are not any currently litigating through the courts. There is a presumption that applies to first responders.
- South Carolina – There is one case working its way through their system on compensability. There are no COVID-19 presumptions in the state.
- Tennessee – The only litigated COVID-19 claim involved a nurse that worked at two facilities and the litigation focused on which employer was liable for the claim.
Texas – There have been a few COVID-19 claims litigated through their system. They enacted a presumption for first responders in July 2021.
- Virginia – There are COVID-19 presumptions that apply to a wide variety of workers. Only one case was litigated on compensability and that was before the presumptions were enacted. That case was ultimately denied.
- Wisconsin – The state had a presumption for a month then the courts overturned it. There are a small number of disputed claims working their way through the courts.
Air Ambulance Bills
Air ambulance bills have been a challenge for workers’ compensation systems around the nation, as the courts have ruled that state agencies do not have the authority to regulate their rates. Texas has over 2500 claims in litigation involving air ambulance fees with an average billed amount over $75,000. States are arguing that the federal laws preventing state regulation of these bills should only apply to commercial airlines and not to air ambulance companies. Currently, there are two Texas claims involving air ambulance bills litigating in the federal courts, and if one is presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, it may help resolve the issue.
Talent Attraction and Retention
State agencies are grappling with the same hiring challenges as private employers in this challenging labor market. Lower pay within state agencies further aggravates the issue, especially in state capitals where many of the agencies are located in smaller towns. Finding applicants willing to relocate for these jobs has also been difficult.
Very limited advancement opportunities has also made retaining talent for these roles particularly frustrating. To compensate, states should focus on creating career paths across agencies to make these jobs more attractive. It is also important for state agencies to demonstrate the meaningful impact of these roles. What these jobs may lack in pay, are made up for in extensive benefits which need to be emphasized in recruiting efforts.
State agencies saw an increase in retirements during the pandemic, creating even more job openings. While the aging workforce was apparent, many were surprised by the number of workers who decided to retire earlier than anticipated.
Another challenge in recruiting is the distinctiveness of these roles, making the necessary experience difficult to find. Finite budgets create additional challenges for training individuals into roles where employees are nearing retirement.
A final challenge facing state agencies is the overall desire to work remotely. Many agencies pivoted to allow this during the pandemic, but ultimately the goal is to return employees back to offices. There are an increasing number of workers who are demanding remote work as an option and state agencies cannot always accommodate this. If state agencies can offer some level of remote work on a permanent basis it will assist in recruiting.