Lawmakers in many states are trying to expand the list of cancers and other illnesses that first responders are presumed to have contracted on the job for workers’ compensation benefits, but the costs associated with the measures are difficult to quantify, experts say.
A lack of data on first responder claims and the long latency periods associated with the illnesses are among the factors complicating the process.
More than a dozen states have introduced bills this year that would add various types of cancer to lists of presumptive work injuries for first responders such as police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel. It’s a legislative trend seen in previous years, as more states seek to expand benefits.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance released a report on Feb. 16 that analyzes recent legislative changes and proposed measures regarding occupational diseases such as cancer among first responders, an issue that affects firefighters more than any other service.
“The nature of employment for firefighters is generally different from that of other first responders and as such the risk of contracting certain occupational diseases may differ between firefighters and other first responders,” the report states.
To further complicate the issue, firefighter cancer presumptions are rebuttable in many states, allowing corporate payers to claim the illness was not job-related, and the question of whether volunteer firefighters are afforded the presumptions their paid counterparts are depends on the state.
The report says it is difficult to quantify the costs of the compensation system because many firefighters work for self-insured municipalities, which are not required to report data to NCCI, many occupational diseases among firefighters and other emergency personnel have long latency periods, and studies linking certain diseases to the workplace draw different conclusions.
Cancer presumptions for first responders vary by state, said Bruce Spidell, NCCI’s actuarial committee liaison and co-author of the report. Some, such as New Hampshire, have general cancer presumption statutes, while others, such as Montana and Idaho, outline specific types of cancer that are considered presumptive.
Regardless of how cancer is classified, actuaries see cancer presumptions as having the potential to increase claims.
“In these cases, we know that the targeted impact will be upward,” Mr. Hospital.
However, figures on injury rates and costs are hard to come by because of reporting problems, he said.
Meanwhile, some states are considering expanding the pool of eligible workers.
Virginia State Sen. Jeremy McPike is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 1038, which would expand the cancer presumptions to state police arson and bomb investigators.
The measure has passed both houses of the state legislature and has been sent to Governor Glenn Youngkin for his consideration.
“The data show more (cancer) links to occupation,” said Mr. McPike.
Mr. McPike said his bill was inspired by the fact that investigators at the Department of State Police were not covered by certain cancer presumptions even if their work involved exposure to potentially carcinogenic agents, such as working in places such as law enforcement investigations.