First responders bill introduced in senate

A Texas House bill filed to aid first responders in receiving medical coverage now has a companion in the state Senate which was filed by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa earlier this month.

Like HB 1521, SB 858 attempts to make it easier for first responders to receive the health care coverage they need by allowing self-insured cities to be sued and by allowing the Division of Workers’ Compensation to assess penalties against them if that city commits an administrative violation by not to covering a filed claim.

If passed into law, the bill would affect cases like that of Homer Salinas, a firefighter with the Mission fire department whose insurance claim was denied by the city’s insurer, the Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool.

A fire fighter with the city since 2002, Salinas was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in 2017. After TML denied his claim, Salinas appealed and in October 2018, an administrative law judge for the Texas Department of Insurance overturned TML’s denial, ruling that Salinas’ cancer was caused by his work. In December, the TDI’s appeals panel upheld the ruling.

Last month, however, TML filed a lawsuit against Salinas on behalf of the city seeking to overturn that decision.

TML argued that they could only provide compensation for city employees diagnosed with testicular, prostate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma based off of a 2006 study on the likelihood of firefighters contracting certain types of cancers.

In February 2018, Hinojosa, D-McAllen, attended a news conference held at Mission city hall wherein city officials and legislators decried TML’s refusal to compensate Salinas’ health care coverage.

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

Upon filing SB SB 858 on March 1, Hinojosa’s office issued a news release stating that the current process for filing a claim was too long to the disadvantage of first responders who don’t have the time or resources to fight it.

“Our first responders have earned and deserve our support, including our firefighters who do not hesitate to enter into a burning building or home to save lives and property,” Hinojosa stated in the release. “We must do everything possible to provide them with the life-saving healthcare they need and the benefits they have earned, especially when the health issues are caused by their line of work.”