Assembly Speaker Robin Vos introduced an amendment Tuesday to the COVID-19 Relief Bill that requires healthcare workers to prove they contracted the virus at work to qualify for workers compensation. (RICK WOOD/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL)
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos introduced an amendment Tuesday to the COVID-19 Relief Bill that requires healthcare workers to prove they contracted the virus at work to qualify for workers compensation. (RICK WOOD/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL)

At the same time, neighboring states giving benefit of the doubt to frontline workers in COVID crisis

Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, certified nursing assistants, police and firefighters, corrections officers, postal workers and grocery store workers are being given the benefit of the doubt when applying for workers compensation after learning they are positive for COVID-19 in at least two of Wisconsin’s neighboring states.

But not in Wisconsin. 

In fact, not only do workers here have to prove they contracted the virus while at work but the pool of essential workers even allowed to apply based on their health condition was trimmed down Tuesday to include only those involved with the direct care of COVID-19 patients and police and firefighters.

The changes were included in an amendment introduced by Assembly Speaker, Robin Vos, R-Rochester, 10 minutes before the Assembly was scheduled to vote on the COVID-19 relief bill, leaving many confused over the contents of the amendment and to whom it applied in the healthcare workforce.

“I think what other states have done – giving healthcare workers the benefit of the doubt – is what we should have done,” said Rep. Melisssa Sargent, D-Madison, Wednesday. “People we deemed essential workers are not being provided proper protections. We didn’t take any steps to properly protect them.”

On Monday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an emergency ruling stating, “COVID-19 first responders and front-line workers who say they contracted the illness because of their job will automatically be presumed to be telling the truth so they can receive workers’ compensation benefits.” 

The order there can last for as long as 150 days and applies to all essential workers. In Illinois, essential workers include healthcare workers, police and fire personnel, corrections officers, grocery store workers, food producers and postal workers. 

“We owe (essential workers) a debt that we can never fully repay. But to start, we can give them the peace of mind to know that they will be covered if they fall ill on the job,” Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 briefing Monday in Chicago, according to the Decatur Herald & Review

Wisconsin’s neighbor to the west has taken similar steps.

On April 7, the Minnesota Legislature, which like Wisconsin has a GOP-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor, passed a bill that extends workers compensation that covers first responders, health care workers and daycare workers, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. 

The legislation is effective April 8 and is in place until May 1. Anyone in these categories who contracted COVID-19 before will have to go through the process of proving they got it on the job.

Legislators say they are not sure how this will get paid for and that it will hit employers hard, but in this crisis legislators said they had to take this action now to protect those on the front lines, according to the article.

The Wisconsin bill, the first to provide relief due to the economic and health-related fallout from the spread of COVID-19, includes several waivers that allow the state to secure millions in federal dollars in additional Medicaid funding and repeals the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance. 

The state Senate meets at 11 a.m. Wednesday to vote on the bill and the governor needs to sign it before Friday in order for the state to qualify for the millions in Medicaid funding. 

“The whole amendment and the whole bill yesterday … the fact we aren’t investing any state money toward the largest public health crisis is concerning and embarrassing,” Sargent said. “It is really unfortunate the bill was drafted the way that it was, but at the end of the day that is the position we were put in. It’s a Sophie’s Choice.”