Mission seeks remedies for firefighter who was denied health benefits

MISSION — The city is contemplating legal action against their health insurance carrier, TML Intergovernmental Risk Pool, for denying coverage of cancer treatment for one of their firefighters.

Mission firefighter Homer Salinas, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer, was denied coverage for treatment to remove a renal cell carcinoma mass from a kidney, according to a news release issued by Texas State Association of Fire Fighters.

The association joined city officials and representatives of the Mission Fire Fighters Association during a news conference Friday to discuss how they were trying to assist Salinas.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and state Rep. Sergio Munoz, D-Mission, were also in attendance.

They were among the state legislators who worked on the law which ensures treatment of job-related illnesses, City Manager Martin Garza said at the conference.

Garza, along with Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas and their city manager, met with representatives with TML in Austin on Feb. 8 to try to resolve the issue.

“The meeting didn’t go as we would hope it would go,” Garza said.

The city manager explained that TML was basing their decision to deny coverage on a study on the likelihood of contracting the illness if a person is exposed to certain things.

“The study has nothing to do with the intent of the law,” Garza said. “When that study was done, that study was never meant to match or accommodate or deal with any law that’s out there.”

A request for comment from TML went unreturned as of press time.

John Riddle, president of Texas State Association of Fire Fighters, said that like many firefighters, Salinas, the Mission firefighter, had been exposed to toxic smoke and chemicals on the job.

“We now know, and science backs this up, that firefighters are at elevated risk to contract several kinds of cancer,” Riddle said. “What the scientific community knows, the insurance community, particularly workers’ (compensation) insurers, often do not.”

He too argued that the state law, under Chapter 607 of the Texas Government Code, was clear that Salinas’ treatment should be covered.

Hinojosa, the state senator, chimed in as well, urging TML to rethink their position.

“We passed legislation in the last session clarifying that there’s a presumption that kidney cancer was caused by toxic fumes,” Hinojosa said. “We need the municipal league to reconsider Homer Salinas’ claim and reverse their decision in the interest of our firefighters.”

In the meantime, Garza, the city manager, said the city is looking at their policies to see if there’s anything that administratively can be done to provide benefits.

“We’re taking some steps moving forward,” Garza said. “There is no doubt that the city of Mission supports not only this firefighter but the firefighters that in the past, and hopefully not in the future, will end up going through a scenario like this.”