Firefighters are at a greater risk of developing cancer than others. According to federal research, they’re also at greater risk from dying from it. But cancer isn’t explicitly part of their insurance coverage in Florida. An effort in the state legislature is underway to change that and momentum is beginning to build.
two firefighters walking on burned trees covered with smoke CREDIT BENJAMIN KERENSA / UNSPLASH
Indiatlantic resident Jay Post worked as a firefighter in Brevard County for 33 years and retired in 2012. He never smoked yet was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017. Last year, he had his vocal chords removed.
“This is how I will speak for the rest of my life,” he said during a recent senate committee hearing. Post has also lost the ability to smell, and says there’s a problem in the system that needs fixing.
“Cancer victims in the fire service are becoming younger and younger and younger. I didn’t get mine until I was 67 years old. There are now guys getting cancer in their late 30’s and 40’s.”
That problem is that most health insurance plans for firefighters in Florida don’t cover cancer, leaving thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for a disease that in some cases, will eventually lead to death, long-term or even permanant disability.
“When these previous insurance rules were written, we didn’t have the knowledge we have today that these jobs are tied directly to this condition. So that, this really is a consequence of working this dangerous job. And that nexus is no longer a question,” says Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.
The links between firefighting and cancer are obvious and research within the past decade have only confirmed those ties. Sen. nitere Flores, R-Miami, wants to provide firefighters with supplemental policies specifically to address cancer, moving the state in line with 40 others. Flores’ plan also provides greater death and disability benefits for cancer than what’s presently being offered. Currently, workers compensation is the mechanism used in Florida to cover cancer. But Flores says the problem with that is, “you need to prove your cancer, your disease came as a result of one incident, which is virtually impossible to prove.”
Most firefighters are city and county employees. And adding cancer to their insurance coverage is a cost those municipalities will mostly have to bear. And while Florida League of Cities lobbyist Amber Hughes says they “understand the sentiment of the bill,” she’s not sure it’s workable.
“We don’t know how to deal with premiums, co-pay, co-insurance, $25,000 cash payout, disability benefit, death benefits,” because Flores’ plan also calls for no out-of-pocket costs for firefighters.
Despite those concerns the proposal got a strong favorability in its first legislative hearing and is being backed by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who also doubles as the state’s Fire Marshall.