Commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Monday, July 26, President Biden said some long Covid patients would qualify for disability, a development that long Covid patients have been seeking for months.
“‘We are bringing agencies together to make sure Americans with long Covid, who have a disability, have access to the rights and resources that are due under disability law,’ Biden said during his remarks, according to CNBC. Under guidance issued by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, long Covid can qualify as a disability under federal civil rights laws if it “substantially limits one or more major life activities.’”
Disability questions from Americans with long Covid are increasingly cropping up, as workplaces plan to bring people back to the office. Yet the current practices of employers, and the legal landscape, have an unpredictable, inconsistent feel. Some employers are more accommodating than others. Some jobs can be done remotely and some can’t. Some people are still debilitated by Covid, more than a year later. And some doctors and other medical professionals — and disability insurance providers — refuse to accept that long Covid can be that long, or that debilitating.
Gary Phelan, a partner at Mitchell & Sheahan, P.C., an employment and labor law firm based in Stratford, Conn., wrote in an email interview about the day’s development: “Today’s ground- breaking guidance from DOJ and DHHS is a game changer for persons navigating long covid and employment. It will change the focus from whether the effects of the symptoms is a ‘disability’ to whether there is a reasonable accommodation for those symptoms.”
Here are some questions:
Q. I got Covid in March of last year. Does this mean I can get disability now — from my company, from Social Security?
A. It’s still not clear. It will probably be a case-by-case determination. Others’ disability quests before this have not met with a great deal of success.
Q. If yes, how do I go about doing that?
A. Here’s our previous blog post about filing a claim. It will probably be dependent on circumstances.
Q. I am unable to work. Why did it take this moment to make disability happen for me?
A. As we have written before, there’s not a concrete definition of what “long Covid” is — or even a consistent name. Some other terms: “Post-acute Covid,” “long-haul Covid” and the klunky “Post-acute sequelae of Covid” (PAC-S),” the choice of the National Institutes of Health.
Q. It sounds like there is a long road ahead as far as rule-making, my application, others’ applications, denials and refusals and so on. Does this really change anything?
A. It truly seems to us that this is the first step on a very long path.
Netia McCray, a long Covid patient we have interviewed before many times, had her own list of questions. She has struggled to find doctors to take her seriously and diagnose her. Here are her questions, for which we have no answers:
- What is long Covid and the likelihood that someone has long Covid after a suspected Covid infection? As mentioned in the British study, most patients are suffering but don’t know the name of it.
- Is there any information for first/second wavers to navigate the process without a positive PCR test?
- Have the American Medical Association and respective specialists worked with the White House on PAC-S and been told to begin screening and developing personalized treatment plans of long Covid patients?
- Only additional question would be regarding the individual assessment, especially if you don’t have a medical care provider who will support your application or confirm your diagnosis, as many do.
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded ClearHealthCosts.
She was previously a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism. ClearHealthCosts has won grants from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York; the International Women’s Media Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC in Los Angeles; the Lenfest Foundation in Philadelphia for a partnership with The Philadelphia Inquirer; and the New York State Health Foundation for a partnership with WNYC public radio/Gothamist in New York; and other honors.
Her TED talk about fixing health costs has surpassed 2 million views.