Vote On Firefighter Cancer Bill Delayed As Both Sides Continue To Make Their Case

Legislation that would provide firefighters disabled by specified forms of cancer the presumption that the disease was incurred through his or her duties will have at least one more hearing before receiving a vote in the Senate Insurance Committee.

The measure (SB 27), which was scheduled for a possible vote Tuesday, would require the state's workers' compensation system to pay for the treatment of any firefighter with at least three years of hazardous duty who is diagnosed with cancer of the lung, brain, kidney, bladder, rectum, stomach, skin or prostate.

The legislation would also cover non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma and testicular or colorectal cancer.

The Ohio Municipal League deems the measure "a fundamentally flawed bill with little evidentiary basis."

"The Ohio Workers Compensation system is supposed to pay for work-related injuries only," Josh Brown, director of communications and a legislative advocate at the organization, told members of the committee. "Our municipalities provide health insurance for non-work-related injuries. This has been a pillar of the system for over 100 years."

Mr. Brown suggested the legislation be amended to exclude firefighters who use tobacco, those over the age of 70 and to include a periodic review of scientific evidence surrounding the link between the occupation and certain cancers.

Also testifying on behalf of the Ohio Municipal League was Kristopher Kachline, a Philadelphia attorney who has litigated several presumption cancer cases for municipalities after the commonwealth passed similar legislation in 2011.

He said that 33 states have passed similar legislation, but just 18 have enumerated specific forms of cancer covered.

Questioning Mr. Kachline, Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus) said the difference in legislation between the states is not uncommon.

"Isn't that the very nature of policy developmental throughout the United States?" she asked, before noting that federal government at one time denied the link between certain cancers and exposure to Agent Orange.

Sen. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) also noted that the difference between the bill under consideration and the Pennsylvania law is the latter is retroactive and covers volunteer firefighters.

Mr. Kachline said the bill is over-inclusive because it enumerates forms of cancer not necessarily linked to firefighting. At the same time, he also characterized it as under-inclusive because it excludes some forms of cancer more common among female firefighters.

"Prostate cancer and testicular cancer are included in the list of covered cancers," he said "Cancers of the breast, cervix, and uterus demonstrate risk estimates equal to or greater for female firefighters than do cancers of the prostate or testicles for male firefighters, yet there is no coverage under Senate Bill 27 for female firefighters."

Proponents of the bill, however, told members of the committee that the legislation is necessary to provide firefighters with the care they need and deserve.

Karen D. Turano, an attorney testifying on behalf of the Ohio Professional Fire Fighters and the Ohio Association of Justice, said currently firefighter face a three-pronged test established by the Ohio Supreme Court to have their cancer deemed an occupation disease, which she described as a difficult hurdle to clear.

"Without the support of the presumptive cancer bill, the firefighter's application for cancer is nearly impossible," she said.

"The opposition suggests that we again deflect the obligation we owe to our fire fighters who contract these cancers as a result of going to work," she continued. "This simply is unjust and not a solution to an already growing and devastating problem."

John Beavers, a lieutenant in the Akron Fire Department who was diagnosed with cancer last year, testified that a fellow colleague who died of cancer used "the existing laws, trying to connect the dots in an impossible war of attrition" in order to receive proper coverage.

"Older buildings and new construction homes have any number of different chemical compositions, not to mention the quantity of these chemicals," he said. "When you add combustion to these materials, deadly chemicals are produced. Tom was asked to prove each and every exposure, duration, absorption rates and then link this to his cancer."

Sen. Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Hts.), who previously introduced similar legislation, urged the committee to act with haste.

"We can't wait until we get it absolutely correct, because we're never going to get it absolutely correct," he said.

Chairman Sen. Jay Hottinger (R-Newark) said the bill will receive at least one more hearing while members of the upper chamber seek clarification on some portions of the legislation.

"I want to err on the side of our firefighters and their families. That said, I recognize we need to get this right," Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Copley Twp.) said.

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