Medical coverage expansion bill for firefighters moves on

BATON ROUGE — Compared to the average male, a male firefighter is 102 percent more likely to develop testicular cancer and 28 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer.

Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City, told his Senate colleagues Wednesday that such statistics inspired him to file Senate Bill 63, which adds those two cancers and, through an amendment, any cancer deemed having work-related origins, to the occupational diseases covered by workers’ compensation for firefighters during their service or in post-retirement.

The measure now moves to the House of Representatives.

Under state law, only a limited number of cancers are included. Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, wanted breast cancer to be included as well, which prompted the amendment to include any cancer deemed as a result of firefighting.

Gatti said medical research suggests that firefighters develop diseases directly related to their work, in spite of exercising precautions and wearing protective gear.

SB63 applies to cancers that are not presently disabling but have the potential to become more dangerous over time. Gatti said this allows a firefighter to work even if the disease is present.

One in three firefighters is hit with some sort of cancer at some point in their lives, according to firefighter Michael Paternostro, representing the Professional Firefighters Association of Louisiana.

Cancers currently qualified as occupational diseases for firefighters include in the areas of bladder, brain, colon, liver, pancreas, skin, kidney, or gastrointestinal tract. Leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma are also included.

Gatti’s bill would give Louisiana one of the broadest coverages for cancer for firefighters, according to Shane Spillman, union president of the Baton Rouge Fire Department.

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