Long COVID Impact on US Workforce and Social Security Disability  

Long COVID Impact on US Workforce and Social Security Disability  

August 2020 is the first time that the general public heard members of the medical community mention the term COVID long haulers.  This term referred to those people who had contracted COVID 19 who continue to suffer from residual symptoms of the virus months after “recovery”.  This term has changed over the past year and a half to Long COVID and refers to people who continue to have symptoms from their illness that can last anywhere from four weeks to six months or more.  Although the medical community acknowledges this condition exists, they admit there is no consistent reason that this happens and who it effects. 

At present Long COVID can affect anyone, old or young, otherwise healthy people and those battling other conditions and men and women.  However, there are some things that have been learned such as the five most common symptoms complained of are fatigue, depression, loss of sense of smell, brain fog and chest pain. The nature of the symptoms is widespread and can impact any area or system in the body.  There is no “typical” Long COVID patient, however it has not been seen in children and the largest group of people effected are between the ages of 27 to 54.  Women still seem to be slightly more likely to develop Long COVID symptoms than men.  Also, those who had severe cases of COVID-19 seem to be more likely to get Long COVID, but some had mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms.

Initially studies indicated that about 10% of people infected with COVID-19 will experience Long COVID symptoms.  As of this past winter it was estimated that about 50% of those infected with COVID-19 have recovered.  Which would suggest that the other 50% are suffering from Long COVID symptoms of varying severity.  Several studies have been conducted to better understand what this impact has on the US workforce.  It is estimated that on the conservative side 4 million full time workers are out of work because of Long COVID.  This translates to about 2.4% of the US working population. 

Due to the impact of Long COVID on the US workforce, the Biden Administration is taking steps issuing guidelines that makes it clear Long COVID can be a disability.  The problem arises with coming up with accommodations for Long COVID because there are so many unknowns, such as duration and severity of symptoms, which can vary widely from person to person.  The Labor Department is actually crowdsourcing ideas for how to keep workers employed.  The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis recently held a hearing to take testimony regarding “Understanding and Addressing Long COVID and its Health and Economic Consequences.”  Testimony from Katie Bach, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Metro brought together survey information from several sources to come up with the impact of Long COVID on the US workforce and make some suggestions on how to help our work force.  She did mention that this 2.4% of full time workers in the US workforces is likely to increase as more people get (re)infected with COVID-19.  She suggested 5 critical interventions to help support a better understanding of this condition and to reduce the economic burden of Long COVID. See The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis recently held a hearing to take testimony regarding “Understanding and Addressing Long COVID and its Health and Economic Consequences.”  Testimony from Katie Bach, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Metro

The issue and suggestions that we were most interested in dealt with how this increase in disabled US workers impact Social Security Disability program.  The issue as she saw it was greater access to better-designed Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits, since those people suffering from Long COVID are struggling to get benefits through SSDI.  The two challenges she saw was how to show objective evidence of the illness and overcome the requirement of a medically determinable illness (“MDI”) lasting or expected to last 12 months or more.  This is due primarily to our current state of understanding of this condition.  She proposed that Congress could improve access to SSDI for these claimants by waiving the 12 month requirement, expedite reviews of Long COVID SSDI claims and broaden dissemination of information about this program.  It is also necessary for policy makers to understand the impact of Long COVID on working and the role that SSDI plays in alleviating the burden of Long COVID which is dependent on getting better information about Long COVID.  And getting better information is dependent on crafting the right questions about Long COVID.  Ms. Bach suggested that the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistic consult with the National Institute of Health to best craft these questions.

It is clear that this issue will be evolving and the solutions of how to deal with this sudden rise of disabled workers in the US workforce will change as we learn more about Long COVID.

References

Caira Conner, December 30, 2020, Covid ‘long-haul’ Symptoms Leave Suvivors in Emotional Limbo.  It’s a Familiar Pain – Think Opinion, Analysis, Essays

Andrea Hsu, August 1, 2022, Millions of Americans have Long COVID.  Many of them are no longer working. – NPR News

House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Coronavirus Crisis Hearing “Understanding and Addressing Long COVID and Its Health and Economic Consequences.” Testimony by Katie Bach, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Metro, available at https://advance-lexis-com.postu.idm.oclc.org/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:65YV-W031-DYVR-P1W4-00000-00&context=1516831.

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