Lindeen: Firefighters Deserve Health Coverage Without a Fight

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‘Claims are often denied or never made’

HELENA, Mont. – Montana’s firefighters could get medical bills for certain job-related illnesses paid if a bill promoted by Insurance Commissioner Monica J. Lindeen becomes law.

Senate Bill 103, sponsored by Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, would specify that worker’s compensation coverage for firefighters must cover certain illnesses that have been medically proven to be associated with the profession of firefighting. Montana is one of nine states that have no kind of “presumptive illness” provision for firefighters. As a consequence, Montana’s firefighters must jump through a complicated insurance bureaucracy before they get insurance benefits that are guaranteed for their colleagues in 37 other states.

“Firefighters don’t hesitate to put themselves at risk to save our lives, our homes – even our pets,” Lindeen said. “They shouldn’t have to wait to get medical bills paid when that same bravery exposes them to cancer-causing chemicals.”

During a fire, common household objects release toxic carcinogenic fumes.  Firefighters expose themselves to multiple cancer-causing agents – typically under great physical stress – as a routine part of their jobs. As a result, their rates of contracting certain cancers are more than double that of the rest of the population.

Certain diseases – including heart diseases, respiratory disease, certain infectious diseases and specific cancers — been proven by multiple studies to have a direct link to firefighting.  Montana worker’s compensation laws do not reflect that reality.

SB103 switches the burden of proof from the sick firefighter to the insurance company for certain illnesses.  These illnesses are presumed to have occurred “in the course of duty.”

Firefighters would only be eligible for the presumption during their employment and for a limited period of time following their termination. They must also clearly meet certain eligibility criteria, and an insurer may rebut this presumption with its own evidence.

The bill is scheduled to have a hearing before the Senate Business and Labor Committee at the Capitol in Room 422 at 8 a.m. on February 11.