CT’s Paid Leave Authority has overcome its COVID backlog

The surge and backlog of applications for the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program, largely due to the COVID, has now leveled off, and better-trained employees of an insurance contractor are handling benefit claims much quicker than earlier in the year, administrators said Thursday.

Andrea Barton Reeves, CEO of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Authority, said during a virtual news conference that at the height of the winter backlog, applicants waited six weeks or longer for approval of the average $560 a week to take care of their own health or family members. Verification is now closer to 10 days.

Over the last several weeks, since the State Bond Commission assigned $3.8 million to address the lag time, the authority is making it easier for claimants to know what they need to properly complete their filings. Reeves said that Aflac, the authority’s Georgia-based contractor, has made satisfactory adjustments to its training of intake personnel.

“They’ve listened to us and they’ve taken in the feedback, not just from us at the paid leave authority, but from the public as well,” Reeves said. “They’ve incorporated that in order to make some significant operational changes.”

About $92 million has been paid out to applicants who are eligible for up to 12 weeks of benefits a year, funded by a one half of one-percent payroll tax. Applications increased from 5,000 in December, to 7,000 in January, then 10,000 in February because of COVID-19. Most cases are now decided within 30 days.

Reeves said that at the beginning of the application surge, the authority sponsored radio advertising, YouTube videos and highway billboards underscoring the specific statutory definition of chronic COVID that essentially bars many people with the virus. Major requirements for eligibility include an overnight hospital stay for COVID.

“It took a while and then we saw a very slow decline in the number of claims coming in,” Reeves said. “Now we see far fewer, even though it seems like we’re in an endemic or basically living with the virus every day. The ones we do see now really do meet that criteria of a serious health condition that will then allow us to better assess that claim and then make a determination.”

Scott Beeman, a senior vice president for Aflac, said that 60 percent of the surge during the year’s first quarter was from applicants with COVID, but whose experience with the illness did not reach the chronic level needed to be eligible for claims.

“In short, there was a very significant high volume of claims,” Beeman said. “More importantly, and what compounded for us, was the rapid spread of omicron through the state of Connecticut. Our own new Connecticut-based team was struggling with the same pandemic, as individuals and as the heads of family while administering a new program.”

The surge in claims was finally pushed back last week. Beeman noted that even during the flood of claims, 82 percent of the 162,000 phone calls were answered in the first 30 seconds. “We have to elevate the Connecticut worker experience,” Beeman noted, adding that 50,000 claims have been processed from the 1.5 million pool of state workers.

About 60 percent of the claims have been filed online, including identity and employment verifications as well as physician forms. Even with the initial problems, Beeman said the paid leave program has had a successful roll out this year. The 2019 General Assembly approved the program and the pay roll deductions started last year.

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT

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