Update: Workers’ Comp Coverage for Firefighters

Karen Ridder

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Lawmakers across the country continue to be interested in workers’ compensation for firefighters and other first responders. In 2018, several states took action, or considered legislation aimed at making the burden of proof on claims easier for firefighters.

Some of the big issues under discussion are not related to on the job physical injuries, but rather the mental health issues, most particularly PTSD, and cancers developed by firefighters over the course of a lifetime. However, these issues continue to be complicated. Increased legislative directives do not always appear to translate over time to increased benefits.

Texas has had a law since 2005 that requires the presumption that firefighters diagnosed with certain cancers and meet certain criteria were exposed to on the job hazards.

In August of 2018, The Houston Chronicle reported that the vast majority of firefighters are still seeing their workers’ compensation claims for cancer rejected. Over the last six years, more than nine out of 10 Texas firefighters with cancer had their claims denied, according to the media outlet. The president of the Texas State Association of Firefighters told the Chronicle the number of rejected claims is astoundingly high.

“It’s higher than any other work-related injury that workers comp has denied,” Riddle said.

In Los Angeles, benefits some firefighters are receiving could lead to changes in the retirement system for the city. According to an August 2018 report from The Los Angeles Times, Mayor Eric Garcetti is considering reforms to the city’s retirement program because of the way some firefighters and police officers were able to “double dip” with early retirement benefits and compensation for time lost to injuries, per the article.

The connection of cancer in firefighters and how it may relate to on the job experiences is also getting attention at a federal level. A law signed by President Trump this summer requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a voluntary registry to collect data on cancer incidents among firefighters. That legislation, sponsored by Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), became active on July 7. The firefighter cancer registry act is an effort to better understand the types of cancers firefighters’ face.

Rep. Collins said the registry is important because it can help doctors and researchers find connections between firefighters’ work and increased risk for cancer.

“This will improve the safety of the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every single day. This legislation has long enjoyed bipartisan support because all of us want to protect those who protect the rest of us,” Rep. Collins said.

According to the First Responder Center for Excellence, 33 states have presumptive legislation that cover firefighter cancer under workers’ compensation. In some states, only specific cancers like leukemia and brain cancer are covered. Other states use broader language that could be interpreted to cover a wider range of experienced cancers.

States are also amending workers’ compensation insurance to include mental health coverage for firefighters. Thirty-two states include some form of PTSD coverage for first responders.

Other states making changes in 2018 to workers’ compensation laws concerning firefighters and other first responders include:

· Florida passed a law that allows coverage PTSD for firefighters and other first responders.

· New Hampshire passed a law making it easier for firefighters to file cancer-related workers’ compensation claims. The state has also formed a commission to study PTSD in first responders, with the intention of considering future workers’ compensation coverage.

· Ohio expanded funding to more than double the amount of money used to cover grant applications related to exposure of firefighters to carcinogens. Click here to read more WorkersCompensation.com coverage on OH.

Other states that have yet to take action have also seen bills introduced which would continue to expand workers’ compensation for firefighters and other first responders. These bills often have bi-partisan backing.

For example, in MO, Republican Lawmaker Nick Schroer and Democrat Bob Burns are co-sponsoring House Bill 1647 which addresses these issues.

In Virginia, Senate Bill 352 of the 2018 session considered the expansion of covered cancers presumed to be occupational diseases for firefighters. The Virginia legislation looked at adding lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and cancers of the colon, brain and testes to the list of cancers presumed to be caused by on the job hazards for firefighters.

It also considered reducing the number of years from 12 to five that a firefighter has to serve in order to qualify for the presumption. That bill was also introduced with Bi-partisan support.

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