After years of advocating for legislation that could deter cities from challenging cancer claims of Texas firefighters, the state’s bravest can breathe a sigh of relief after Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 2551 into law.
On Tuesday, Governor Abbott signed the bill that amends Section 607.055 of the Texas Local Government Code, stating that a firefighter or emergency medical technician who suffers from a list of 11 cancers resulting in death or disability is presumed to have developed the cancer during the scope of their jobs.
“We are excited to know that firefighters will get the coverage and medical treatment they need to recover from an illness/injury under this bill,” The Baytown Professional Firefighters Association Local 1173 posted on Facebook in response to the bill being signed into law. “We’d like to thank Senator (Juan) Hinojosa for authoring this bill in the Senate, Rep. Dustin Burrows in the House, and Office of Governor Greg Abbott for signing off on this nearly unanimous bi-partisan bill.”
“We’d also like to again thank our Baytown legislators State Representatives Mary Ann Perez, Briscoe Cain, Mayes Middleton and Senators Brandon Creighton, John Whitmire, and Carol Alvarado for sponsoring and supporting this bill,” Local 11773 added. “We’re grateful for your support to Texas firefighters.”
The bill states cancer that may be presumed to be occupational include cancer that originates in the stomach, colon, rectum, skin, prostate, testes or brain, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, malignant melanoma and renal cell carcinoma.
Firefighters hope those that are diagnosed with those 11 cancers will be spared a legal battle to get health benefits. For years, firefighters have said municipalities and insurers interpret the law with a memo by the Texas Intergovernmental Risk Pool to avoid paying medical costs and benefits. The memo only presumed three types of cancer caused by firefighting: testicular, prostate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
If firefighters have cancer not on the list of 11, they still have the ability to file a claim through workers’ comp.
In addition to the list, the bill deters
cities and third-party insurance carriers from denying legitimate claims going forward by making the city of third-party insurance provider responsible for legal fees should they lose in court.
With Governor Abbott’s signature, the law goes into effect immediately but has no impact in the City of Baytown’s lawsuit against Baytown Battalion Chief Patrick Mahoney, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2016.
“The only question it raises in my case is why the city is pursuing a costly lawsuit they claimed they filed because they needed clarification for the future,” Mahoney said. “If the law has changed but they’re still pursuing the lawsuit I can only surmise that the explanation they gave the public and press was disingenuous.”
The city’s lawsuit is not about medical coverage for Mahoney’s cancer treatments through the city’s health insurance but seeks clarification as to if thyroid cancer would be covered by the Texas Department of Insurance Workers’ Compensation in the future.
“(Senate Bill 2551) does not change the basis of the current case though, given that thyroid cancer remains absent from the newly established presumptive list,” Natasha Barrett, City of Baytown spokeswoman, said.