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County Treasurer Pitches Plan to Aid Fire Departments with Cancer Insurance


On January 1, 2019, a new law goes into effect in New York State requiring that all qualified interior volunteer firefighters be provided gap coverage insurance for cancer. This insurance would provide monetary assistance to volunteer firefighters in the event they are diagnosed with cancer, to help cover the enormous costs associated with the diagnosis.

It's a terrific and well-deserved benefit for our volunteer firefighters who put themselves in harm's way to serve and protect. There's only one problem. While Albany passed the legislation and made it law, they didn't fund it. Instead, that cost was passed on to our already financially strapped fire departments and towns.But, I believe I have a plan that would help save our fire departments tens of thousands of dollars.

I recently presented my plan at a full meeting of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors. I'm happy to say that the proposal I put forth has received strong, bipartisan support and is expected to be voted on at next month's meeting.

Read more about my plan here, in the Register Star article below.

Thank you, and thank you for supporting our volunteer firefighters!

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Richard Moody Columbia-Greene Media
August 10, 2018 11:31 pm

Columbia County is looking to transfer savings in workers’ compensation to help local fire departments pay for insurance they’ll be required to provide to volunteer firefighters beginning next year.

The state passed a law Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed last October that requires fire departments to offer insurance to volunteer firefighters with five years’ of interior experience for various types of cancer, including lung, prostate, breast, lymphatic, hematological, digestive, urinary, neurological, cancer of the reproductive systems, or melanoma.

The law will take effect Jan. 1.

The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York put together an insurance program for fire departments across the state, partnering with Hartford Insurance Company, which will offer insurance for certain types of cancer for $225 a year per eligible firefighter.

“These costs would push a lot of the local fire departments and towns over their tax cap,” said Columbia County Treasurer PJ Keeler. “It’s another unfunded mandate. Fire departments have enough problems with recruiting and retaining people.”

The county has about 900 to 1,000 firefighters — though not all may be eligible for the program. It’s possible, Keeler said, that older members of departments, who no longer participate in interior firefighting, will be eligible for the insurance coverage.

Keeler, who is a firefighter with the A.B. Shaw Fire Company in Claverack, presented an idea to the Columbia County Board of Supervisors at its full board meeting Wednesday to help fire departments and towns afford the added cost for offering insurance.

The county could use savings in its workers’ compensation fund to reduce how much towns and departments pay for the insurance.

Each January, the county bills the towns — along with warrants for property taxes — for workers’ compensation. In 2018, all the towns and county paid about $2.5 million into the workers’ compensation fund, and Keeler projects the amount will be about the same in 2019.

“We have seen savings in workers’ compensation claims the last couple of years,” Keeler said. “We used to see significant claims from the Pine Haven Nursing Home. Since we sold the nursing home, we have seen savings.”

The former county nursing home at 201 Main St., Philmont, was sold in 2015.

The county would charge the towns less for workers’ compensation each year under Keeler’s plan, based on preliminary estimates, but then turn around and charge municipalities for the cost of the insurance, which would save the towns money on the insurance costs.

The amount paid to workers’ compensation will decrease to about $2.3 million under the plan — an overall savings of $156,999.

“These numbers are still very preliminary,” Keeler said. “We will not know the total costs to the towns for the insurance until the fire departments get a quote from Hartford.”

Keeler’s plan is budget-neutral, he said, and will not require an increase in taxes.

FASNY is reaching out to fire departments to determine which are participating in its program. The participating departments will give FASNY the number of eligible firefighters by Jan. 1.

For example, the Ancram Volunteer Fire Department, would pay $3,150 a year to provide insurance to its eligible firefighters through FASNY’s program, under preliminary estimates.

But under Keeler’s plan, Ancram would be charged $1,672 less for workers’ compensation. The county would then come back and charge the town $1,610 for the insurance cost and cover the difference at roughly $110 per firefighter from the money saved by reducing the county’s contribution to the workers’ compensation fund.

An estimated $102,569 in savings is estimated for 2019. In Ancram, the county would contribute $1,540 to pay for the insurance.

Fire departments do not have to participate in FASNY’s program, but the state must approve any insurance departments choose to use.

Eligible firefighters can access their benefits as soon as the law takes effect Jan. 1. Firefighters who become eligible for the coverage after Jan. 1 will be able to access benefits a month after their eligibility.

The program will provide lump-sum benefits — an amount based on the severity of the cancer — $6,250 for less severe cases and $25,000 for more severe cases. The money is drawn from a pool of $50,000 a firefighter, which would be available if the particular firefighter has more than one cancer diagnosis during his or her career, according to a statement from FASNY.

Firefighters will also receive a flat $1,500 a month for 36 months should they become completely disabled. In the event of death, beneficiaries will receive $50,000, according to FASNY.

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