Paid family leave polices draw interest from Virginia insurers

Dave Ress, The Virginian-Pilot

Half the insurers that sell short-term disability coverage in Virginia — the policies that reimburse lost income when illness or an accident keeps a person from working — say they’d be interested in offering paid family medical leave policies.

Family leave coverage would pay a benefit if a person needs to be away from work to care for a family member or for the first weeks a newborn or adopted child comes home.

The State Corporation Commission surveyed insurers for their interest in paid leave policies at the direction of a new state law requiring disability insurers provide at least 12 weeks of coverage after childbirth.

Virginia law does not currently allow insurance policies offering paid leave coverage.

A state Senate committee earlier this year killed a bill that would have set up a paid leave program through the Virginia Employment Commission, funded in the same way as the state unemployment insurance benefit as a tax on employers. Eight states and Washington, D.C., have enacted laws setting up paid leave programs.

The 11 insurers who said they’d be interested in offering paid leave coverage said it was a better approach for helping new parents than are disability plans.

One alternative the General Assembly asked about — policies that offered a maternity benefit — would likely be too expensive to be practical, the insurers said. One said premium payment required would likely be equal to the amount of the benefit a new parent would receive.

The insurers said the new law’s requirement is confusing, since the 12 weeks is longer than the usual six to eight weeks of coverage in a short-term disability policy and it isn’t clear whether a medical review is needed for the additional weeks.

Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, dress@dailypress.com