During October, the BWC received approximately 40 claims alleging non-accidental potential exposure to anthrax. To date, all incidents are the result of workers coming into contact with an unknown, powdery substance at the work site or from public safety workers responding to an emergency call. In the cases, the substance was not found to contain anthrax. However, some workers involved have incurred emergency medical charges such as emergency response calls, hospital ER, physician, lab/pathology, and prophylactic antibiotic therapy.Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 4123.68 a worker must have “contracted” a disease from a workplace exposure for a claim to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Claims for mere exposure are non-compensable in Ohio.
President George W. Bush issued a proclamation on September 14, 2001, stating that a national emergency exists by reason of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States. Governor Bob Taft has instructed state agencies to take measures to assist Ohioans impacted by these and subsequent events. As such, BWC is taking extraordinary measures to alleviate the financial burden resulting from potential or real bioterrorism exposure to non-accidental potential biological agents in the workplace. On October 30, 2001, the BWC announced a bioterrorism exposure policy:
All state fund claims alleging potential non-accidental exposure to anthrax or other biological agent will be automatically referred to BWC’s medical advisor for an occupational disease medical review. Where the worker tests negative for anthrax, the BWC will disallow the claim in accordance with Ohio law. In the event a worker actually contracts anthrax, the claim will be handled as an occupational disease claim.
Emergency medical diagnostic services necessary to investigate the claim and confirm or rule out an anthrax diagnosis will be paid by BWC as occupational disease claim investigative costs. Prophylactic antibiotic therapy, initiated in accordance with Ohio Department of Health and the Centers’ for Disease Control protocol, will also be reimbursed by BWC. Reimbursement for prophylactic antibiotic therapy initiated prior to substance testing will be considered on a case by case basis and BWC may limit reimbursement in these cases.
Each case involving non-accidental alleged or real exposure to anthrax or other biological agent will be handled by a centralized claims team, led by BWC’s physician medical advisor and specially trained claims staff to ensure BWC resources are deployed prudently. Only workers who come into direct contact with the potential anthrax or other biological agents in the course of their employment and are instructed by emergency response personnel to seek emergency treatment will be covered by this policy.
Jill Stevenson, Claims Program Coordinator for the BWC, indicated that the occupational disease claim investigative cost and the prophylactic antibiotic therapy reimbursements discussed immediately above will be charged to the surplus fund and not an individual employer’s policy for state fund employers. The BWC has not volunteered to absorb any cost for self-insured employers.
The BWC believes these extraordinary measures are crucial to ensure the financial peace of mind of Ohio employers and employees who otherwise would have to bear the full responsibility of these alleged acts of terrorism in the workplace.
SACS Consulting and Investigative Services, Inc.
Tim Dimoff, Speaker, National Expert, Author: