New York’s Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) has confirmed that it is no longer paying a $500,000 death benefit to the families of workers who die from COVID-19 – if they have chosen to remain unvaccinated. This news comes as the battle to vaccinate the population goes on, with many Americans split on whether to get the jab.
Talk of a vaccine in April 2020 may have gotten people excited, but now the subject has become exhausting. While most Americans are getting vaccinated, millions are refusing to, citing concerns ranging from side effects to conspiracy theories about microchips. As it has proven impossible to allay those concerns, authorities are resorting to financial consequences to encourage people to vaccinate.
The NY MTA’s decision to deny death benefits for unvaccinated workers who die from COVID-19 is on the extreme end of that spectrum. On the one hand, it may encourage workers to get vaccinated, thereby saving lives. On the other, it may cruelly disadvantage families who have just lost a loved one and provider.
There are those who argue that this is a common sense law that would apply in any other circumstances as well. However, this is very different from a regular life insurance policy according to The Insurance Bulletin.
Let’s say a person is diagnosed with a treatable illness after the waiting period for their life insurance is complete. If they refuse to get treatment and die from the illness, their insurer is still obligated to pay out.
Of course, the MTA is not providing life insurance, and that is exactly why they can deny death benefits.
Punitive vs. Incentive
The problem with the MTA’s stance is that it can appear needlessly cruel, as if it is a punishment meted out to the family of the worker. Considering that COVID-19 is a highly communicable illness and that vaccinated people are less likely to make others sick, there is room to consider penalising someone for putting other workers in danger.
However, penalising someone who has died is no one’s idea of fairness. And the idea of denying the death benefit is meant to serve as an incentive.
The incentive is that workers will get vaccinated on behalf of their families. They will want to avoid leaving their families destitute in case of their death. But there is another kink in the logic here.
Many of those refusing to get the vaccine do not believe in the severity of the virus or assume that they are safe from dying. Since the denial of the death benefit only applies to COVID-19 deaths, they know their families will be compensated for any other tragedies.
There are more issues that make the application of this decision somewhat more difficult. Deciding on what counts as a COVID-19 death is complicated. After all, many individuals who die from COVID-19 actually die from complications or existing illnesses.
The CDC has been counting COVID-19 deaths for over a year and a half. But they do not have to justify their decisions to call something a COVID-19 death. A death from diabetic ketosis that was triggered by COVID-19 counts for the CDC, but it may be possible to challenge that decision in a court of law.
Unless the MTA is gearing up for arguing their case, it seems likely they will cave at the first indication that they may be challenged. That said, there are not so many COVID-19 deaths that they will be overwhelmed. Since the policy changed in June, 5 workers have died of COVID-19, and 173 in all since the start of the pandemic.
An Uncertain Future
The issue is not one that is specific to the MTA. The entire country is grappling with what it means to refuse vaccination. The refusal to vaccinate has made the pandemic drag on longer than it had to. But forcing people to vaccinate has proven too controversial to consider implementing. Taking away personal freedoms has also come under fire.
The term “vaccine passports” has been used by some to strike fear in the hearts of their constituents. It has been used by others to reassure their constituents that measures will be taken to bring the pandemic to a definite end.
More and more scenarios are playing out in which people are refused entry to events or are disinvited to events due to their refusal to vaccinate. Can it get even more controversial than it has been the past year and a half? That remains to be seen.
Whether the MTA’s decision to deny death benefits to unvaccinated workers will have an impact on vaccinations or will even stand up to legal challenge is also unclear. For now, we will continue taking things one day at a time in a world which is still incredibly uncertain.