OLYMPIA, Wash. - The Washington state senate has unanimously passed a house bill that would expand medical coverage for firefighters and law enforcement. The bill now heads to Governor Inslee's desk to be signed.
House Bill 1913 passed the house of representatives on March 1. That vote was 89-5 with 4 representatives excused. After passing through three senate committees, the bill passed unanimously with a 47-0 vote on April 11.
Specifically, the bill would expand occupational disease presumptions for firefighters, fire investigators, EMTs, and law enforcement. The newly recognized presumptions are to include mesothelioma, stomach cancer, nonmelanoma skin cancer, breast cancer and cervical cancer.
In the latest senate bill report, it states "the presumption only applies to any active or former firefighter who has cancer that develops or manifests itself after the firefighter has served at least ten years and who was given a qualifying medical examination upon becoming a firefighter that showed no evidence of cancer."
Current presumptions include prostate cancer diagnosed prior to the age of fifty, primary brain cancer, malignant melanoma, leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, bladder cancer, ureter cancer, colorectal cancer, multiple myeloma, testicular cancer and kidney cancer.
The infectious disease presumption was also expanded to include hepatitis, meningitis and other infections.
There are some exemptions to the medical presumptions though. If an employee has a history of tobacco or smoking they may not qualify for some presumptions included heart or lung complications. Currently, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries is required to define the extent of tobacco use in relation to the claim. The Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention program conducts occupational claims with L&I. The bill states " the presumption never applies to current smokers with heart or lung conditions".
A table in the bill summary breaks down which presumptions do and do not apply to tobacco users.
H.B. 1913 also establishes a new advisory committee for occupational disease claims. The committee is to be composed of two epidemiologists. two preventative medical physicians and an industrial hygienist. SHARP will work alongside the committee by providing scientific support and research. The research director of SHARP will also serve on the committee as the non-voting chair.
In each senate committee public hearing, the bill received only positive testimonies.
In the Ways and Means Committee, the testimonial summary states, "a wide variety of quality studies have shown that firefighters are at a higher risk of contract diseases, such as cancer. Making this presumptive diseases shifts the burden of proof. When you are fighting cancer you should not also have to fight for your benefits. Many other states already recognize these diseases".
The bill will now move to be signed by the governor. He has not commented publicly on the passage of the bill.
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