NYSIF: 31% of COVID Claimants Suffer Long-Term Illness, but Rate Declining

A report released this month by New York State Insurance Fund found that 31% of workers who filed claims for COVID-19 continued medical treatment or took time off work more than 60 days after the initial infection.

NYSIF’s report is the latest report to assess the impact of “long COVID” on workers’ compensation, and found the condition more prevalent than two previous studies.

The National Council on Compensation Insurance issued a report in October that found 24% of COVID claimants suffered long-term symptoms, while the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute reported in January that 7% of claimants received treatment for COVID symptoms after the initial acute phase had subsided.

Michael Choo

Dr. Michael Choo, the lead author of the NCCI report, said prevalence rates can vary because researchers define long COVID differently and analyze different databases with different populations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization define the term differently, the NYSIF report says.

Choo, who is chief medical officer for Paradigm, said in scientific literature, the percentage of COVID patients who reported debilitating symptoms after the initial acute phase ranged from 10% to 85%, depending on the population studied and the definition used.

He said long COVID patients fall into three basic categories. Some get so sick from the disease that they suffer actual organ damage. A second group develops typical illnesses that are associated with long hospital stays and long periods of immobilizations. A third group — about 20% of long COVID patients — was not hospitalized but suffers a “constellation” of unusual symptoms.

“That’s where the biggest challenge comes in,” he said. “Are they gaming the system? They have brain fog. They can’t walk 300 yards. They have fatigue.”

The good news: The share of long COVID patients who were not hospitalized but continue to suffer symptoms declines to about 4% at nine months after infection, he said.

Choo said the scientific studies do seem to agree one one thing: the prevalence of long COVID has declined over time, likely because physicians have learned how to better treat the disease and the latest variants to emerge have caused less serious illness, despite being more contagious.

NYSIF researchers defined long COVID claimants as workers whose claims were accepted or adjudicated and continued treatment or took time off of work because of symptoms more than 60 days after the initial infection. The study examined 3,139 COVID workers’ compensation claimsfrom Jan. 1, 2020 to March 31, 2022.

The report says 71% of claimants who suffered long COVID required treatment or had to take time off of work for six months or more.

NYSIF found an irregular decline in the percentage of long COVID claims after the initial US outbreak in March 2020. The share of long COVID claimants was 44% during the first three months of the outbreak, declined to about 25% by early 2021, spiked to more than 50% in the summer of 2021 and dropped to 8% by March 2022, according to the report.

Early in the pandemic, more than 90 out of 1,000 workers’ compensation claims were for long COVID cases, but that dropped to less than 10 by the summer of 2021. The report found that claimants with co-morbidities or who were hospitalized because of COVID were the most likely to suffer long-term symptoms.

The report says more study is needed. “Nevertheless, these findings support prior research that a reduced frequency and severity of COVID-19 infections may be lowering the prospect of long COVID in the overall population,” the report says.

Alex Swedlow, president of the California Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, said medical professionals are still learning about the impact of long COVID on various body symptoms.

“Until there is agreement on what conditions define long COVID (other than time, we are unable to estimate its impact,” Swedlow said in an email. “As for all COVID infections, only 3% of infected working age Californians reported a workers compensation claim, which underscores the societal aspect of COVID.”