HB 146: Firefighter Cancer Insurance Passes through Senate, Awaits House

The House passed HB 146, Firefighter Cancer Insurance. The bill is now being sent to Governor Nathan Deal. Local governments will need to plan for this new expense in next year’s budget.  ACCG will be providing counties with more information about the requirements of this legislation and ways to minimize costs.   

HB 146 would require fire departments to provide a lump sum payment to any firefighter diagnosed with certain types of cancers and up to three years of disability payments if the firefighter can no longer perform his/her job as such due to illness or injury. The coverage is estimated to cost about $1 a day per firefighter, whether an employee or volunteer of the fire department. If a firefighter is an employee of one fire department and a volunteer at another, the bill says that only the department which employs the firefighter would be required to provide coverage.

“Everyone recognizes the critical service that firefighters provide in our communities,” said ACCG Director of Property & Casualty Programs David Uhlman. “This legislation allows firefighters to be compensated immediately upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, when they need it the most. Legislators were committed to addressing this issue this year, and we believe this solution is a less expensive alternative to workers’ compensation. It provides benefits that are easy to understand and eliminates the necessity of attorney involvement and a lengthy claims adjudication process.”

Governor Deal vetoed a bill in 2016 (HB 216) which sought to provide workers’ compensation coverage to firefighters who contracted cancer as a result of their firefighting activities. In his veto letter, Deal stated, “While the authors’ intent of this bill is respected, I am concerned that codifying an exception for one occupation at this relatively low standard of proof with no time limitation on diagnosis or restriction on eligible types of cancer is a broad solution for a problem not yet abundantly demonstrated in Georgia.” He also expressed concern that the bill had the potential to exhaust the State Board of Workers’ Compensation and our state judicial system with litigation at the expense of local governments if they dispute that the cause of the cancer was work-related.

ACCG had opposed HB 216 for those reasons in addition to the expected cost to Georgia counties that are required to provide workers’ compensation coverage to their firefighters. Workers’ compensation coverage for cancer claims was estimated to cost $8.5 - $10.5 million annually for members of the ACCG Group Self-Insurance Workers’ Compensation Fund (GSIWCF).

Since HB 146 provides specified benefits via an insured product, it is estimated to cost $4.4 - $6.4 million less than workers’ compensation on an annual basis.

If approved by Governor Deal, the bill goes into effect January 1, 2018.