Why do we force Arizona firefighters to prove which fire gave them cancer?
Heather Carter and Paul Boyer, opinion contributors
Opinion: Workers compensation companies want firefighters to prove which fire involving which carcinogens definitively caused their cancer. That’s an impossible burden of proof.
Firefighters typically spend more than 20 years on the job. Over the course of decades, that means being summoned to thousands of fires, including countless situations involving chemicals that, when burned, are known to cause cancer.
As The Arizona Republic underscored in its Feb. 11 report ("Cancer is Bankrupting Arizona’s Firefighters. Is There Anything We Can Do To Help?"), the men and women on the frontlines suffer certain cancers at rates far beyond the general population.
In 2017, this fact moved the Legislature to pass a law expanding to 12 the list of cancers presumed to be caused by firefighting and to grant firefighters diagnosed with those cancers quicker, easier access to workers’ compensation insurance.
How do you document what caused cancer?
Unfortunately, as The Republic reported, some insurance companies and some doctors – CopperPoint, a leader in the workers’ comp field, and oncologist Dr. Jason Salganick, a frequent expert witness for Big Insurance – are still denying cancer-stricken firefighters the insurance required by law.
Their rationale? Firefighters seeking insurance coverage should be required to prove which fire on which date at which time and involving which carcinogens definitively caused their cancer.
That’s an impossible, ridiculous burden of proof – one only a lawyer could dream up. As Todd Lundmark, an insurance company lawyer told The Republic: “If medical science established a clear relationship between various forms of cancer and firefighting, we wouldn’t have this issue. It’s because of a conflict in medical opinion in causation that we have this conflict.”
Firefighters have higher cancer rates
We don’t buy that argument. Medical evidence is abundantly clear that firefighters suffer certain kinds of cancer rates far higher than the general public. That fact is no less true if a firefighter cannot cite the specific date, time, location and carcinogen that caused their cancer. It’s also the rationale behind legislation currently moving through the legislative process.
These bills, which we’ve co-sponsored, will remove the insurance loophole from the law by creating an irrebuttable presumption that firefighters diagnosed with certain job-related cancers in fact must be given workers’ comp insurance coverage. This includes the treatment they need to get healthy.
In a world where insurance companies and lawyers play games with the truth, we apparently need to create a law that includes no ifs, ands or buts. So be it.
Insurance fights efforts with false arguments
Naturally, the lobbyists for the insurance companies are fighting us tooth and nail. Their first argument, as reported in The Republic, is that our bill is unconstitutional. Constitutional attorneys have analyzed this argument and absolutely disagree. These experts believe the Arizona Court of Appeals’ decision in favor of firefighters with cancer – and parallel decisions in states like Florida – point to the legislation as constitutional.
Other scare tactics have focused on cost. However, in states that have passed similar legislation, the cost has not been punitive for taxpayers – especially compared to asking cancer-stricken firefighters and their families to go bankrupt while they also go through chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Going by even conservative statistics, hundreds of Arizona firefighters have gotten cancer in the past decade – with at least nine having died with their boots off.
We believe asking these heroes to bear the impact of cancer and brutal financial punishment is simply too much of a burden. It’s unfortunate that some insurance companies, doctors and municipalities seem to disagree. Their legalistic hair-splitting aside, we will continue to push to support first responders who suffer a terrible toll trying to save the lives, homes and property of Arizona residents.