North Carolina Senate Fails Firefighters on Presumptive Cancer Coverage

There are 49 states in the Union who recognize the great risk that firefighters expose themselves to over the course of a long career. Besides the obvious risk of fighting fires and being at the front lines of highly dangerous situations, firefighters are exposed to an array of toxic chemicals while performing their jobs.

That is why there are 49 states in America who have passed legislation which labels certain forms of cancer as occupational diseases. This allows firefighters to have presumptive cancer treatments covered by the state.

But for some reason, the North Carolina Senate seems to be hell bent on remaining the only state in America who will not pass additional coverage for firefighters who have developed certain cancers, according to local Fox 8.

“In 2019, a bill known as House Bill 520 was passed by House leaders in Raleigh but died in Senate Committee,” Fox 8 reported. “This would have required those cancers to be covered by health care under the Workers’ Compensation Act.”

Currently, North Carolina will only cover cancers such as esophageal, mesothelioma, testicular, and intestinal, if the former firefighter has died of his illness.

In addition to covering the costs while the stricken individual is still alive and possibly able to recover, House Bill 520 would cover rectal, brain, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, mesothelioma and oral cavity cancers, in addition to the ones listed above.

Dave Coker is a Greensboro firefighter and the president of the Professional Firefighters of Greensboro-IAFF, Local 947. He argues that the state already recognizes cancer as an occupational disease for firefighters by the four types of cancer it currently covers as a line of duty death.

For him, the State Senate is playing politics with people’s lives and potentially leaving the families of future victims buried in medical bills.

“Senate leadership is ideologically opposed to any expansion of any workers’ comp benefit, even if it’s firefighters,” he said.  “That’s extremely disheartening.”

Disappointment in partisan politics preventing firefighters from being taken care of was also echoed by Firefighters and EMS Fund’s Executive Director, Nile Porter.

Presumptive Cancer Coverage - Firefighters Support Alliance

“It’s unfortunate that ideological opposition to expansion of worker’s comp is the reason for North Carolina lacking presumptive cancer legislation,” he said. “Notwithstanding I and those I have spoken about this issue with are confident that working to give American Emergency Medical Responders the support they deserve puts us on the right side of history.”

Coker and others have taken up the mantle and will continue to fight for these expanded benefits so that firefighters can receive the treatment and help they have earned.

“Firefighters and their families, it’s too important to lose hope. It’s too important not to put our nose to the grind and work for this bill.”

In the past there were fewer plastics and synthetic materials in our homes. But now our households and businesses are filled with these toxic materials, so for firefighters, exposure is inevitable.

This means that for many, cancer will be inevitable. The firefighters of North Carolina deserve this coverage as they willingly put their lives and future health on the line to serve their communities. It is time their government honors their sacrifice.

Getting them to do it is a mission Nile Porter believes will have a successful ending.

“There absolutely will be presumptive cancer legislation in North Carolina one day.”

But despite a history or resistance to expanded coverage for firefighters from some North Carolina politicians, recent developments suggest that day may be soon arriving.

On April 1st, North Carolina Republican Senators, Todd Johnson and Senate Majority Whip Jim Perry, introduced Senate Bill 472. This is an important steppingstone, as previous bills introduced in the House eventually went on to die in the North Carolina Senate without Republican support, according to Greensboro, North Carolina Fox affiliate, Fox 8.

“The hope is that more Republicans will support this bill than in the past because it involves a trust as a means of funds and not an expansion of health benefits for firefighters,” notes the news station.

Senate Bill 472 contains caveats which prevent just anybody from being able to access the benefits provided by it. Qualifying firefighters must have “a minimal of five years of service; you can’t have been an occupation, five years prior that also had a significant cause for these cancers, and you cannot have a history of tobacco use.”

Coverage would be expanded to cover 7 of the most common occupational cancers for firefighters: Mesothelioma, Testicular Cancer, Intestinal Cancer, Esophageal Cancer, Cancers of the Respiratory System, Cancers of the Digestive System, and Cancers of the Urinary System.

If passed, this bill would provide firefighters with a trust worth $25,000 to deal with up front medical costs.

Senate Bill 472 provides a moment of cautious optimism that the politicians of North Carolina will offer the same basic medical protections afforded to firefighters in every other state in the country.

In the words of Greensboro Firefighter and Senate Bill 472 proponent, Jamie Burgess, “it’s a bright moment, but we’re still not there yet.”

Image Credit: Photo by Matt Chesin on Unsplash

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