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Biden Says Long COVID May Be a Disability

Experts are learning more about COVID-19 all the time, but there’s still a long way to go before we fully understand the impact the virus can have on patients. Different people suffer from different symptoms, and while some recover relatively quickly, others are left dealing with health difficulties and disability long after their initial diagnosis.

If you’re still struggling with symptoms of the virus weeks or months after you contracted it, you may have a condition doctors are describing as “long COVID.” The growth of this dreaded problem has some people wondering whether it may fall under the scope of disability law. In fact, President Joe Biden recently discussed this possibility during a public address.

What Is Long COVID?

The CDC describes long COVID (also known as post-acute or chronic COVID) as new or ongoing symptoms that occur four or more weeks after an initial infection. People with the condition are sometimes referred to as “long-haulers.” Long COVID can cause symptoms like:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Tiredness
  • Aches and pains
  • Brain fog
  • Heart health issues, such as elevated heart rate or enlarged heart problems
  • Loss of smell and/or taste
  • Lack of focus, diminished executive functioning, or other cognitive deficits
  • Organ damage

As we noted in our last blog on this topic, it’s difficult to predict who will suffer from long COVID prior to contraction of the virus. While you are more likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19 if you have underlying co-morbid conditions, there are many young and otherwise healthy people who struggle with symptoms for months after infection. Also, people who have only mild symptoms (or no symptoms at all) at first can go on to develop long COVID.

The virus has not been around long enough for researchers to say how much time it might take for long COVID to pass. Unfortunately, as of right now, there’s no guarantee that people with the condition will ever make a full recovery. That’s why policymakers are discussing the idea that long-haul COVID patients should be granted disabled status, allowing them to access the benefits and protections that come with chronic disabilities.

Biden’s Stance on Long COVID

On July 26, President Biden said he was trying to introduce protections for people suffering from long-haul COVID. He was speaking at an anniversary celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a piece of legislation that aims to ensure people with disabilities are protected from discrimination when it comes to things like transport, accommodation, and employment. 

For example, under the terms of the ADA, a business cannot refuse to hire someone because of a disability. Employers must also make allowances (within reason) for disabled workers, such as providing wheelchair-friendly entrances to their premises.

Biden noted that lingering COVID-19 symptoms can “sometimes rise to the level of a disability,” adding that people with long COVID should enjoy the “rights and resources” that disability law provides. The White House has not elaborated on the details of this area of potential recovery.  

Does the ADA Apply to Long COVID Already?

Even if the administration does not take action to directly classify long COVID as a disability, the condition could qualify under certain circumstances anyway. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), if long COVID “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” it can be considered a disability under Sections 504 and 1557 of the ADA. This law sets out rules for physical or mental impairments that meet this standard, so a diagnosis of a specific illness is not always required.

The “major life activities” the ADA refers to are wide-ranging. They include, for example, walking, writing, speaking, learning, bending, thinking, and working. The “substantial limitation” requirement is broad as well; you don’t have to undergo a particular treatment or satisfy a given standard in order to qualify. 

So, for example, if you suffer ongoing shortness of breath because of long COVID, and this prevents you from walking normally or doing physical work, you may be a disabled person under the terms of the ADA.

How Might Disability Insurance Benefits Come into Play for Long COVID Sufferers? 

Whether you’re seeking short-term or long-term disability insurance benefits after a COVID-19 diagnosis, you must satisfy the following requirements: 

  • You have a suitable privately purchased individual or employer-provided group disability insurance policy
  • You are unable to work, or find it difficult to work as normal, because of your illness, and meet the policy elimination or waiting period requirement before monthly benefits start
  • You have received appropriate treatment for long COVID from a physician
  • A physician has confirmed that your symptoms prevent you from carrying out your occupation. Alternatively, if your policy insures you for “any occupation,” you are disabled if you are unable to carry out any role for which you are trained, educated, or suited.

Remember, COVID-19 is a new disease, so it’s probably not specifically mentioned or excluded in any short- or long-term disability insurance policy you have. However, ongoing symptoms of the virus may still make you eligible for monthly disability insurance compensation. Depending on the wording of your policy, you may be able to qualify for disability benefits because all of your symptoms combined prevent you from doing your occupation, or any other occupation, reliably. In order to find out for sure, though, you’ll need to consult with an experienced disability insurance lawyer.

Seeking Legal Help After a Long COVID Diagnosis

There’s still plenty that medical experts don’t know about COVID-19, particularly when it comes to related conditions like long-haul COVID. That means it’s often impossible to know what to expect once you catch it. If you have persistent symptoms after contracting the virus, the uncertainty around how long they are likely to last can quickly create a debilitating sense of fear and frustration.

However, non-health-related concerns don’t necessarily have to come into the equation. If long COVID is affecting your financial stability, your disability insurance policy may have a role to play. Also, if you feel you’ve been wrongfully denied your disability benefits and need to file an individual lawsuit or an administrative appeal under ERISA, it’s important to act quickly and comprehensively. Filing a timely, complete appeal of your group ERISA policy is crucial. For a free consultation with one of our disability law specialists, contact Darras Law today.

DarrasLaw is Americas' most honored and decorated disability litigation firm in the country. Mr. Darras has seen more, evaluated more, litigated more, and resolved more individual and group long term disability and long-term care cases than any other lawyer in the United States.

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