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Information on HB 146, Firefighters’ Cancer Insurance Benefits

September 29, 2017
In 2016, House Bill 216 passed out of the General Assembly and was vetoed by Governor Deal. This bill would have amended Georgia’s longstanding Occupational Disease Statute within the workers’ compensation system by no longer considering cancer an ordinary disease of life for firefighters. Implementation of House Bill 216 would have placed significant costs on Georgia cities and strained the workers’ compensation system.
 
Recognizing a need to provide assistance to Georgia’s firefighters when they contract cancer, while also protecting the financial interests of Georgia cities, GMA worked with firefighters, elected officials and insurance industry experts to identify a compromise solution. The result of these efforts, and with support from Representative Micah Gravley and Senator John Albers, has been the 2017 passage of House Bill 146, known as the Firefighter Cancer Insurance bill.
 
House Bill 146 requires all legally organized fire departments to provide a lump sum payment to any firefighter diagnosed with certain types of cancer and up to three years of disability payments to firefighters who, because of injury or illness, cannot work as a firefighter. This new benefit requirement becomes effective on January 1, 2018. While the requirement to provide this benefit will be an additional expense to cities, the expense will be a fraction of the estimated costs House Bill 216 would have imposed.
 
GMA is offering a fully insured program, backed by The Hartford, to help cities be in compliance with the new law. GMA is currently accepting applications for the program and will return quotes to members in October.

Please see the following series of frequently asked questions below.
 

General Information about HB 146

Q. What is the purpose of HB 146 (the Act)?
A. The Act provides firefighters, including volunteers, with monetary assistance in the event they are diagnosed with cancer.
 
Q. Who is affected by HB 146?
A. All entities that have firefighters certified in the State of Georgia, whether public or private.
 
Q. In general, what does the Act require? 
A. Primarily, there are two parts of the Act relating to a diagnosis of cancer for eligible firefighters. One is a critical illness requirement and the other is an income replacement requirement. Depending upon the severity of the diagnosis, the critical illness requirement is either $25,000 or $ 6,250. The income replacement requirement is 60% of the firefighter’s total salary as a paid firefighter, or $5,000 per month, whichever is less, for a period of 36 months. If the firefighter is a volunteer, then the requirement is $1,500 (since there is no salary). Income replacement is required to start no later than 6 months after the determination that a firefighter can no longer perform the duties of a firefighter. The requirements are independent of each other, but the firefighter is not allowed to receive payments as both an employed firefighter and as a volunteer.
 
Q. What date does the Act become effective?
A. The effective date is 1/1/2018.
 
Q. How do I know if my entity is required to comply with the Act?
A. In the most basic terms, if your entity has a legally organized fire department that employs firefighters or utilizes volunteer firefighters, then your entity is subject to the Act.
 
Q. Who determines if an entity has complied with the provisions of the Act?
A. The Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council will determine rules and regulations governing the Act and what constitutes compliance.
 
Q. I’ve determined that my entity is subject to the Act. How do we comply?
A. There are two methods: you can purchase insurance that is in compliance with the Act or you can self-insure the requirements. Most entities will find it necessary to purchase insurance to comply with the Act.
 
Q. What are the requirements to become self-insured?
A. Those requirements are established by the Georgia Department of Insurance.
 
Q. Is the State of Georgia creating an insurance program at the State level?
A. No. Insurance for the program can be provided by a private insurance company licensed in the State of Georgia or the entity can self-insure the required benefits.
 
Q. Will a compliant insurance program been established?
A. Yes, a program will be provided through the Georgia Municipal Association for municipalities and through ACCG for counties. Entities that do not fall into either category will have access to the same program through Willis Towers Watson.
 
Q. Can insurance be purchased outside of the GMA, ACCG or Willis Towers Watson program?
A. Yes, as long as the insurance is in compliance with the Act.
 
Q. Does the legislation allow for different plan aspects to be offered?
A. Yes. The legislation defines a minimum requirement. To the extent those requirements are met, or exceeded, will be determined by how an individual entity chooses to meet requirements of the Act.
 

FAQ for Firefighters

Q. Who is eligible for benefits?
A. All employed and volunteer Georgia firefighters, as of 1/1/2018.
 
Q. Can a firefighter submit a claim under the program for an illness or injury diagnosed prior to 1/1/2018?
A. No. Only compensable injuries and illnesses diagnosed on 1/1/2018 or after will be eligible to receive benefits.
 
Q. What is the difference between employed and volunteer firefighters?
A. An employed firefighter’s primary source of employment is working as a firefighter and is receiving compensation for their work. Volunteer firefighters, while not employed for compensation, are certified according to the rules and regulations of the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council.
 
Q. What is the estimated number of employed and volunteer firefighters in the State of Georgia?
A. There are approximately 30,000 employed and volunteer firefighters currently serving in the State of Georgia.
 
Q. Are only county and city firefighters covered under the Program?
A. No. County, city, state and private firefighters are all eligible.
 
Q. Must a firefighter have served continuously for a period of time to be eligible?
A. Yes, firefighters must have served 12 consecutive months with their fire department to be eligible.
 
Q. If a firefighter serves as a paid firefighter in one location and a volunteer firefighter in another location, would that firefighter be eligible for coverage in both locations?
A. No. Upon diagnosis of illness or injury, a firefighter would be eligible in either their primary place of employment or where they volunteer as a firefighter, but not both.
 

Features of the GMA Firefighters Benefit Program

Q. How does the lump-sum supplemental medical benefit work with the insurance program GMA will make available?
A. The lump-sum benefit provides a payout for a diagnosis of cancer based upon severity of the condition. For severe forms of cancer, the payout is $25,000. For less severe forms of cancer, the payout is $6,250. There are also types of pre-cancerous conditions which would not qualify for a payout. These details will be provided in future materials distributed to the firefighters as well as the future Benefit Program website.
 
Q. Does the lump-sum benefit pay for more than one diagnosis of cancer?
A. Yes. Subject to a limit of $25,000 per diagnosis, the critical illness (lump sum) component is limited to $50,000.
 
Q. How much time must separate multiple diagnoses to allow for more than one payout?
A. The firefighter must be symptom free for 180 days between diagnoses.
 
Q. May the firefighter take the benefit with them when they leave service?
A. Yes, provided they have not exhausted their $50,000 limit while employed or volunteering, the firefighter may keep the lump-sum benefit and continue coverage. The firefighter must pay the premium to continue coverage.
 
Q. How does the income replacement benefit work?
A. The benefit starts 6 months after the date a firefighter is determined to be disabled by illness or injury. For employed firefighters, the monthly benefit is 60% of their pre-disability earnings, subject to a maximum of $5,000. For volunteer firefighters, the benefit is a flat monthly benefit of $1,500.
 
Q. How long does the income replacement benefit last?
A. Provided the firefighter is deemed disabled, the benefit maximum duration is 36 months following the waiting period.
 
Q. Does the income replacement benefit pay only for a diagnosis of cancer?
A. No. The income replacement benefit will pay for any illness or injury resulting in disability as detailed under the insurance contract provisions.
 
Q. For an active firefighter who is employed with more than one fire station, may they combine the income received from each station to determine their income replacement benefit?
A. Yes, provided the salary information is available, the firefighter may combine all sources of firefighter income to calculate their benefit up to a maximum of $5,000 per month.
 
Q. For a volunteer firefighter, does the income replacement benefit cover income earned in employment outside of service as a firefighter?
A. No. The volunteer firefighter maximum benefit is a flat $1,500.
 
Q. If the active or volunteer firefighter is receiving income from other sources, is the monthly benefit reduced?
A. Yes. The monthly benefit will be reduced based on the other sources of income.
 
Q. If a firefighter owns a privately purchased insurance policy paying benefits in addition to those received under the program, would the Program monthly benefit be reduced?
A. No, provided the firefighter purchased a privately acquired policy not provided or funded by their employer.
 
Q. Are both benefits taxable?
A. Both benefits are taxable under IRS rules as the firefighter’s employer is paying for the coverage.
 
Q. What is the estimated cost of the insurance Program through GMA?
A. Although not finalized, the estimated cost per firefighter per year is approximately $400.
 
Q. Who is responsible for paying for the Program?
A. Municipalities, counties, and private organizations that employ firefighters and/or use the services of volunteer firefighters will be responsible for paying the premium. In those cases where a firefighter is both employed by a fire department and volunteers at other departments, then the employer will be responsible for the premium.
 
Q. Is the State of Georgia paying for any of the local governments’ costs for the Program?
A. No, however, House Bill 146 does exempt the purchase of this type of insurance from all state and local insurance premium taxes.
 
Additional details will be provided in the coming weeks and a website will be developed for reference. In the interim, please direct any questions to Stan Deese at (678) 686-6221 or Cal Wray at (678) 686-6215.