“The problem with long haul is that there are no diagnostic criteria set for it, there are no tests,” said Barrie lawyer Steve Rastin.
As the medical community strives to resolve persistent health issues linked to COVID-19, these patients – known as long haul – are struggling with more than their health.
Barrie attorney Steve Rastin says a battle is brewing between those with long haulers who haven’t been able to work and are looking to use their benefits to survive, and insurers who refuse to pay.
A year-old British study found that 10% of people infected with COVID-19 would have symptoms that do not resolve over the following months, describing it as a multisystem disease.
But Rastin believes it could be the bottom of the ladder – an American study suggests it could go up to 30 percent.
But even at 10 percent, that’s 140,000 of the 1.4 million Canadians infected with COVID-19 who could be long-haul.
Their struggles with insurance companies over benefits have already resulted in lawsuits.
“We don’t have a working definition of long-haul COVID” describing how long a patient exhibits symptoms before being considered long-haul, Rastin said. “There isn’t one unified set of symptoms for everyone.”
Long-lasting symptoms often include fatigue and brain fog. But some people have also complained of muscle pain, shortness of breath and / or gastrointestinal issues as well as other medical issues.
A local pulmonologist said earlier Barrie today that the symptoms are varied and that the medical community is confused as to how to treat the underlying cause of all problems.
Some people with persistent symptoms who have been off work for an extended period of time hit a brick wall while applying for long-term disability benefits. Rastin says insurance companies want proof that claimants are indeed sick and unable to work.
“The problem with long haul is that there are no diagnostic criteria established for it, there are no tests for it … a lot of insurance companies ask for objective evidence,” he said. -he declares.
Susie Goulding, who started COVID Long-Haulers Support Group Canada, which now has about 14,000 members, says the lack of definition of what makes a long haul is the problem. Insurance companies have relied on this “loophole” to prevent disability awards, she said.
“They deny the claims left, right and center,” Goulding said. “Because there is no definition, these insurance companies have no code to write off.
“The people who have not been supported throughout this pandemic are the people who have actually been directly affected by the virus, who have the virus and who are not able to work. They fall through the cracks, ”she added.
Goulding, who had the virus in the first wave, criticizes Canada’s national health system, which only recognized symptoms of long-lasting COVID-19 in recent weeks, much later than other countries, she says.
In a July 7 statement, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer said prolonged or recurring symptoms, called Long COVID, are recognized by the World Health Organization as a “post-COVID-19 condition.” .
Initial results from the Public Health Agency of Canada indicated that most – 83 percent – of lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients continued to have one or more symptoms within four to 12 weeks and 56% beyond 12 weeks.
“Due to the low certainty of the evidence, more research is needed to determine the true burden of the post COVID-19 state,” the country’s director of public health said in a statement.
The belated recognition has delayed efforts to find a definition of what constitutes long haul, leaving an entire community that is not ready, able or willing to work and without access to benefits, Goulding says.
Some of the other obstacles that Rastin and Goulding point out are the inability for some to see their family physicians to obtain documents on the objective evidence requested by insurance companies and, for some of the early COVID-10 patients like Goulding, not not have positive results. test results.
“We’ve had these issues before,” Rastin said, pointing to the chronic pain resulting from fibromyalgia, which was difficult to diagnose, and even Lyme disease. “It’s a chronic post-infection syndrome.
“Insurance companies have usually set people on fire, ‘Well, you have to prove that you have this problem.’
Rastin sees a major legal battlefield develop as these patients struggle to prove they are too disabled to work. He says it is fundamentally unfair that after paying long term disability benefits, long haul carriers are now denied benefits.
All of this, he adds, follows an insurance vacuum resulting from the pandemic lockdown in which there were far fewer people on the roads, resulting in far fewer insurance claims. Personal injury attorneys found that their phones had stopped ringing for an extended period of time as there had been so few accidents, slips and falls and bar fights.
Closing or downsizing courts meant existing insurance claims were not being processed or settled and those receiving benefits did not have access to many therapies.
“Insurance companies have benefited in a number of cases” from the pandemic, said Rastin.
Goulding’s group calls for recognition of Long COVID, research to identify and define the problem, and rehabilitation to treat it.
“Canada must recognize that Long COVID is a national crisis and that it is a handicap,” she said. “It also needs to be taken seriously by the government and, like other countries, we need to have access to disability benefits. … And what does returning to work look like?