A national study by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute found that 6% of workers who filed claims for COVID-19 suffered long COVID, meaning they sought additional treatment more than a month after the initial infection.
WCRI’s estimate is the lowest prevalence rate yet among four major research papers that examined long COVID. The other studies, which analyzed different populations and used different methodologies, reported long-COVID rates from 13% to 31%.
WCRI examined 75,000 COVID-19 claims from 31 states that included payments for medical care from March 2020 through September 2021. Research Bogdan Savych summarized the findings during a webinar on Tuesday.
Claims that included treatment for long-COVID were far more expensive than claims that resolved after the initial infection. They averaged $29,341 in medical payments alone, compared to $2,285 for other COVID claims. The small percentage of long-COVID claims that required initial care in a hospital intensive care unit were the most expensive, averaging $193,848, the study says.
Workers with long-COVID claims had on average five months of temporary disability benefits within 18 months of the initial infection. Indemnity benefits cost an average of $14,184 for long-COVID claims, compared to $2,007 for COVID claims that resolved early on.
The study found 67% of workers with COVID claims received indemnity benefits, but no medical care. Another 18% received medical care but no indemnity benefits and 14% received both medical care and indemnity benefits.
Workers with the most intensive care were the most likely to receive care for long COVID conditions. Among workers who required care in an ICU, 74% received medical care in the post-acute stage. Similarly, 46% of workers who were hospitalized were treated for long-COVID.
Studies by other researchers also found that long-COVID rates varied according to how much treatment was required initially. But each of three other major studies found much higher prevalence rates.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance reported in October 2022 that 24% of COVID claimants suffered long-COVID. NCCI studied 7,651 claims with medical services from March 1, 2020, through March 30, 2022.
The New York State Insurance Fund reported in February that 31% or workers who filed COVID claims sought continued medical care more than 60 days after the initial infection. The research examined 3,000 Covid-19 workers’ compensation claims NYSIF received between January 1, 2020, and March 31, 2022.
A California Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau research paper released in June estimated that 13% of workers’ compensation claimants with COVID claims experienced long COVID. That study examined approximately 10,000 claims from April 2020 to December 2021.
Savych said the main difference among the studies are the type of claims that were included in the analysis. He said WCRI examined the prevalence of long COVID among COVID-19 claims that had indemnity benefits or medical care, or both. He said 67% of claimants in that sample had only indemnity benefits. NCCI estimated the prevalence of long COVID among a subset of COVID-19 patients who received both medical care and indemnity benefits.
“This approach excludes from the comparison a substantial share of COVID-19 claims, since many workers with COVID-19 claims did not receive any medical care during the acute period of their infection,” Savych said in an email. “This means that the NCCI estimate of the prevalence of long COVID is generalizable only to those patients who had severe enough COVID-19 symptoms to require medical care and income benefits during the acute period of COVID-19 infection.”
He said when WCRI limits its analysis to the same subgroups of cases as examined by NCCI it obtains similar rates of long COVID.
Savych said he believes that NYSIF also did not include claims that did not receive any medical treatment, but the report is not clear on that point.
The WCRI study can be purchased here.
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