Firefighters have long complained that a state law meant to assure their bills are paid when they get work-related cancers isn’t helping the way it should. And a state review says they’re right.
The law says that when firefighters get leukemia as well as breast, pancreatic, prostate, rectal and throat cancers, they should be presumed to be the result of their work. But the Workers Compensation Commission and Virginia courts also require them to prove exposure to a specific cancer-causing material that’s linked to their specific cancer.
Being unable to show that led to seven decisions denying workers comp benefits to firefighters with cancer, out of 20 cases the commission considered between 2008 and 2019, analyst Drew Dickinson told the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission Monday.
The commission denied nine other claims because the firefighters didn’t show they had been disabled or for other reasons.
In addition, Virginia’s requirement that firefighters with less than 12 years of continuous service could not benefit from the cancer presumption has no particular basis in medical research and is stricter than any other state with similar presumptions.
Dickinson said the legislature might want to consider saying responding to active fires or cleaning up or investigating after a fire ought to be sufficient for a valid cancer claim.
“Stringency of requirement of counter to the purpose of the presumption, which is to relieve firefighters of the need to prove work caused their disease,” Dickinson said.
A bill last year that would have expanded the cancer presumption to brain, testicular and colon cancer would generate six new claims a year, but because of the high costs involved would boost fire departments’ annual workers comp insurance premiums by an average of $269 per firefighter, while increasing the cost of coverage for line of duty act benefits by $61 per full time employee.
JLARC’s review of the workers compensation commission also found:
Virginia is the only state that doesn’t reimburse workers whose injuries are due to a the cumulative trauma of repeated acts — for instance, back injuries caused by a regular requirement to lift heavy items.
The fees the commission sets for to pay doctors, hospitals and other providers for treating workplace injuries are 204% of what Medicare pays for the same care, and are the fifth highest of the 44 states that have fee schedules.
While the commission’s decisions are seen as being timely and fair, delays in insurers’ handling of claims are a problem, which could be addressed by following the lead of other states that set time limits for insurer action on claims.
©2019 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
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