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Free Press reporters M. L. Elrick and Tresa Baldas at their home in Detroit on April 14, 2020. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)

“My husband, podcast host and Free Press reporter M.L. Elrick was the first to get sick. I felt sick and so did my husband. We had fevers, fatigue, aches — he coughed incessantly — and we did not know with certainty what was wrong.” Elrick tested positive for Covid-19. “The same day that he got his fever, I spiked a fever, too — though mine was 102; his was 100,” says Tresa Blade, a reporter for the Detroit Free Press.

Named Richard Milliman Journalist of the Year by the Michigan Press Association, Tresa is a committed journalist. She had just written an article about an infected mother, father and son who had beaten the virus from home. She had also interviewed doctors battling the pandemic on the front lines when she and her husband got sick.
Desire to feed the hunger for news, drives journalists like Tresa. Quarantined people want news of the outside world. Reliable sources of information are crucial in our fight against this morphing enemy. Journalists become essential foot soldiers on the front lines of the war against the virus. In the pandemic world sifting wheat from chaff becomes a matter of grave importance.

Journalists like other essential workers – truck drivers, food businesses, health workers, farm workers – are often treading in the virus’s footsteps. The question then is what – insurance they carry. Does workers compensation cover their exposure to the virus? Do they have health insurance? What happens if they are unable to meet their premiums at this time?

Workers’ compensation insurance is designed to assist employees who incur medical costs, lost wages, and rehabilitation expenses in the event of work-related illness or injury. Workers’ comp may also provide death benefits and other financial services for the family members of an employee who died as a result of a work-related illness.

At a Zoom briefing update organized by Ethnic Media Services and sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundationon April 22, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara identified who qualifies for the state’s Worker Compensation System during COVID-19.

On March 12, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order stating that workers may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they were exposed to or contracted COVID-19 on the job.

Lara reiterated that all workers impacted by coronavirus on the job, including undocumented immigrants, are now eligible for workers’ compensation benefits . They would be eligible regardless of their immigration status.

It is generally challenging to identify whether an illness is covered by workers’ comp—especially if that illness (like the coronavirus) is circulating in the outside community. In most cases, even a validly filed Workers’ Compensation claim may take months or longer to determine eligibility for benefits (medical treatment and temporary disability).

One of California’s largest workers’ compensation insurance companies, the State Compensation Insurance Fund, announced that it will pay COVID-19 medical costs and income losses for employees at essential businesses that it covers, regardless of whether workers contracted the illness at work or not.

“Getting coverage for yourself and your family has never been more vital,” said the commissioner. Covered California opened the state’s health insurance benefits exchange to eligible uninsured individuals who need health care coverage amid the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. Anyone who meets eligibility requirements, which are similar to those in place during the annual open enrollment period, can sign up for coverage through June 30, 2020. Consumers can find out if they are eligible for financial help and see which plans are available in their area by using Covered Shop and Compare Tool and entering their ZIP code, household income, and the ages of those who need coverage.

Governor Gavin Newsom and Commissioner Lara directed health insurance companies to make all medically necessary COVID-19 screening and testing free of charge by eliminating co-pays and deductibles. This includes network tele-health or, when necessary, doctor’s office visits as well as network emergency room or urgent care when necessary for the purpose of screening and testing for COVID-19.

Consumers who sign up through Covered California by June 30, 2020 will have access to private health coverage plans with monthly premiums that may be lowered due to federal and new state financial help that became effective in 2020. In addition, Covered California health plans and health insurers will help cover costs that arise from any required treatment or hospitalization.

If essential workers are experiencing a problem with an insurance matter, the number to call is 1-800-927-4357. “We will guide you through the process,” said Commissioner Lara. Users can visit the online Consumer Complaint Center to file a complaint and submit general insurance questions and inquiries online, using the Contact Us  form.

Lara also suggested that people who are faced with the choice of putting food on the table or paying their premiums, should contact their insurance company if they need additional time to pay their premium. His department has issued a Notice requesting all insurance companies provide their policyholders with at least a 60-day grace period to pay their premiums.

Commissioner Lara has also instructed all insurance companies to stop enforcing policy or statutory deadlines on policyholders for claims or coverage until 90 days after the statewide “state of emergency” or any other “state of emergency” has ended related to COVID-19. It protects policyholders from losing, limiting, or waiving policy benefits as a result of the current national state of emergency. If an individual incurs a substantial loss of income, subsidies available through Covered California may pay for almost all of their premiums, or they may qualify for low or no cost insurance. if you qualify for Medi-Cal.

Assured insurance coverage would give journalists like the Elricks one less thing to worry about and allow them the freedom to move around and report on the pandemic. Their fearless reporting keeps us well informed and gives us hope that we will beat the virus. They shine a light so we may not walk in darkness.

There is one minor hitch though. When asked if she got workers compensation after her brush with death. She replied, “I have not. I do not know HOW I got the virus.Nor where I caught it.” Besides, even though she had the exact same symptoms as her husband, her test for corona had come back negative.

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