Firefighters Criticize Cancer Presumption Study and Legislation

As previously reported in Conduit Street, MACo supported legislation during the 2012 session that would require a study by a neutral medical researcher on the linkage between firefighting and cancer rates.  The legislation also added a number of cancers to the workers’ compensation occupational disease firefighter cancer presumption but delayed the effective date of those cancers in order for the study to be completed and reviewed by the General Assembly.

A stakeholders group that included MACo, the firefighters, the Governor’s Office, the Department of Legislative Services, and the Maryland Self-Insurers’ and Employers’ Compensation Association met throughout 2012 and into 2013 to select an expert and secure funding for the study.  However, due to the complexity of the undertaking, progress in finalizing the study went slowly and the study will not be complete prior to the new cancers from last year’s legislation taking effect this June.

Therefore, MACo requested legislation, HB 1314 / SB 681, that would delay the new cancers taking effect until the study was completed.  In an effort to recognize the concerns of firefighters, the legislation also included a 2-year delay in the normal statute of limitations for filing a workers’ compensation claim so that a firefighter could opt to wait to file a workers’ compensation claim to take advantage of the presumption when the cancers were ultimately added to the presumption.  (A firefighter can currently file a workers’ compensation claim for any of the potential cancers, they are simply not part of the presumption.)

MACo Testimony on HB 1314 / SB 681

On February 14, the Professional Firefighters of Maryland released a letter criticizing both the work done to date on the study and the proposed legislation.  In the letter, the firefighters withdraw their support for an expert that had already withdrawn from the study due to family health issues and oppose a proposed funding agreement that had been discussed by the stakeholders workgroup for months.  Neither concern was raised during any of the stakeholder meetings.  The letter also implies that Baltimore County acted in bad

The firefighters also criticized the legislation in a February 17 statement that made no mention of the study component of the 2012 bill:

In 2012, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Fire Fighter Cancer Presumption Bill (House Bill 1101). This legislation amended Section 9-503 of the State of Maryland Worker’s Compensation law to add Brain Cancer, Breast Cancer, Testicular Cancer, Multiple Myeloma, and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma to the list of cancers that are presumed to be job-related and contracted in the course of duty as a fire fighter or paramedic. This law was slated to take effect on June 1, 2013.

In an attempt to stall this important legislation from taking effect, the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) has solicited a number of elected officials to sponsor legislation that would delay implementation of these presumption protections for an additional two years. Within the last week, Senate Bill 681 and House Bill 1314 were filed and assigned Committee hearing dates. If enacted, these bills would halt the progress that we have made in helping ensure that our members who suffer from these cancers have the best treatment available and much needed financial assistance for their families.

As part of the firefighters grievance against the withdrawn expert involved a Baltimore County court case, the County released a response on February 22 that challenged the firefighters assertions.

MACo remains committed to the goal of having cancers included in the firefighter cancer presumption based on sound medical and scientific evidence and will continue to advocate for both the study and reasonable reform of the workers’ compensation public safety occupational disease presumptions.