City discusses insurance plan for firefighters with cancer

On Tuesday, the LaGrange City Council voted to purchase an insurance plan in coordination with the Georgia Municipal Association that will focus on benefits for firefighters with cancer.

The decision came in direct response to Georgia House Bill 146, which was signed by Governor Nathan Deal in May and will take effect in January.

“This past general assembly session there was a bill passed called House Bill 146, and that basically dictates to us that we have to provide cancer coverage for our firefighters,” City Manager Meg Kelsey said. “So, GMA has been on the forefront of this bill. As a member of GMAG’s board, I have been very aware of this legislation and its impact to the cities across the state.”

The insurance will cost the city a total of $11,230 annually under the intergovernmental agreement, and the agreement will guarantee that rate for three years. The city council agreed that the rate for insurance through the Hartford Group under the GMA agreement was acceptable.

“The real advantage to us to go into the GMA program is they know what the insurance package has to have — all of the ands, ifs, wheres, whys and what fors,” Kelsey said.

Those requirements under House Bill 146 are relatively simple, but extremely specific.

“Basically, it says that we have to provide two things,” Kelsey said. “One is a lump sum benefit, where if a firefighter gets cancer after they’ve been with the city for 12 consecutive months. The lump sum benefit would be $25,000 for severe cancer as dictated in the law and then $6,250 for less severe forms of cancer. The other thing that we have to provide is long-term disability, and that would-be 60 percent of the member’s monthly salary with a firefighter’s salary with a maximum benefit per month of $5,000.”

The plan would also include a lump sum benefit to the estate of firefighters who die of cancer, and it would not have a maximum age restriction, according to Kelsey. The insurance is also expected to still be applicable if the firefighter can partially return to work and would not be expected to interfere with worker’s compensation claims. Earlier versions of the plan included cancer coverage under worker’s compensation, but that proved problematic, forcing the switch to this specific type of coverage.

“Council may recall a lot of discussion at GMA about this because the original proposal was to basically make cancer covered by worker’s compensation, and there was a lot of concern about that because that really becomes an open-ended sort of expense to the cities,” Mayor Jim Thornton said. “In fact, a lot of worker’s compensation carriers said they would stop writing city worker’s compensation if that became an issue. This was a compromise with the state legislature to provide a defined benefit to firefighters, but also not run the risk of causing an unfunded liability for the cities.”

According to Kelsey, the city has not had any known cases of cancer in City of LaGrange firefighters due to smoke or environmental factors.

The LaGrange City Council is scheduled to meet again on Nov. 28 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.