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County likely not liable if anyone caught COVID-19 at rally

Seeing the coverage and photos of the political stunt held on the courthouse lawn made me wonder if insurance companies will be interested in identifying those in attendance as well as the officials and candidates responsible for the gathering in order to deny coverage for any COVID-19 treatment sought by all of those who chose to ignore the best medical advice. And, of course, with Commissioner Colleen Roberts’ stamp of approval and encouragement, I wonder if Jackson County is indemnified when attendees begin looking for someone to blame and make pay for their recklessness?

— J., Medford

For those who missed the news, hundreds of people gathered on the lawn of the Jackson County Justice Building May 16 in defiance of Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 rules that restrict gatherings larger than 25 people and require social distancing.

The so-called “Faith and Freedom Rally” crowd was protesting restrictions meant to save lives, but which they say have hurt the economy and stifled their ability to gather in big groups at church.

Speakers included Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts.

Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton said that as far as he’s aware, the Jackson County government took no official action to authorize, grant permission, deny permission or promote the rally.

“I can’t think of a way someone could bring a claim against the county because a commissioner attended,” Benton said.

That doesn’t mean someone sickened by COVID-19 couldn’t try a lawsuit against the county and use a creative argument, he said.

Benton said because of attorney-client privilege, he can’t disclose whether Roberts consulted with him about whether it was OK for her to attend the rally.

As for whether an insurer might deny coverage for someone who catches the virus after attending a crowded event against Oregon rules, we checked with AllCare Health, one of the local managers of Oregon Health Plan physical, mental and dental benefits.

AllCare isn’t interested in policing the potentially risky behavior of clients during the pandemic by denying health insurance coverage, said Josh Balloch, vice president of government affairs and public policy.

He said that’s not AllCare’s job.

“If someone presents with COVID, we’re going to treat it,” he said.

Rules governing Medicare for senior citizens and Medicaid, which primarily serves lower-income people, bar denying coverage for COVID-19 treatment under such circumstances, Balloch said.

Roughly half of Jackson County residents are covered by either Medicare or Medicaid.

“If a person gets sick, we need to make sure they get better,” Balloch said. “We do 100% encourage people to practice social distancing, wear a mask, stay home when you’re sick and wash your hands.”

In terms of health care coverage in general, Balloch said in certain rare cases, a person could be on the hook for medical expenses. A patient, for example, who purposely went against a doctor’s treatment advice and ended up with costly complications might have to pay that bill, he said.

Balloch said private insurance companies would probably also cover COVID-19 treatment even if a person went against Oregon restrictions, but he isn’t sure.

We asked Roberts if she wanted to comment about your questions. She said the questions were answered by Benton and AllCare and she didn’t have any additional comment.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.