Health trust proposed for local asbestos victims
A proposed $250 million health care trust for Libby asbestos victims should be managed locally, said Dr. Brad Black, director of the Center for Asbestos-Related Disease.
U.S. Senator Max Baucus has introduced an amendment to pending federal legislation requiring W. R. Grace to pay $250 million into a Libby Health Care Trust Fund before the corporation emerges from bankruptcy.
Baucus announced the proposal in a press release dated one week after he met with Libby residents to discuss healthcare needs for asbestos victims as a result of Grace's former vermiculite mining operations at Libby.
The fund would be used to help Libby residents and former Grace employees pay for health care to treat diseases associated with asbestos exposure.
Black welcomed the announcement but said the value to the community will depend on the details for such a fund.
"It has to be a community managed trust and not controlled elsewhere," he said. "We do not need to fight the same battles presently experienced with the Grace plan or in a proposed federal trust that doesn't include criteria beneficial to Libby asbestos victims."
W.R. Grace began a medical plan for people with asbestos-related illnesses nearly four years ago. Criteria for people to participate in the program and coverage have been challenged by Black and asbestos victims.
In addition, federal legislation to bail out corporations saddled with asbestos liability has been proposed for the past five years. It includes a victims' health trust many consider inadequate for the size of the problem existing nationwide, and it has yet to include criteria beneficial to more than 25 percent of the Libby victims.
"I want people here to determine how
people are covered," Black said. "I think Max knows that and has said that himself before."
In introducing the amendment, Baucus said the people of Libby are facing an immediate health care crisis caused by the "alarming rates of asbestos-related exposure disease and illnesses."
"Projected health care costs to treat all sick people in Libby run into the hundreds of million of dollars," the senator said. "They need our help. They are dying up there and they can't afford health care. I'm committed to getting them the long-term healthcare treatment they need and deserve."
Baucus' amendment is based on a bill that he's introduced in past Congresses that would set up a permanent health care trust fund for current and former Libby residents and the workers from the W.R. Grace vermiculite mining operations in Libby. However, the amendment would update the past Baucus proposals by requiring Grace to pay for the trust fund directly.
W.R. Grace should be required to cover the health care cost of people it made sick, rather than having Medicare, Medicaid or the state pick up the tab, Baucus said.
During discussion with Libby residents almost two weeks ago, Baucus learned that the cost of treating one patient averages about $500,000 and there are 1,200 to 1,500 patients in the Libby-Troy area.
Black said using the interest only on a $250 million trust might cover local health care costs for asbestos victims.
"The trust should be arranged in a way to benefit the people of Libby," Black said.
He said CARD would be a good recipient for managing such a trust - it's a non-profit 501 (3)c.
"The key thing is local control of the trust," Black said.
"I visited Libby just last week and they told me how great their health care needs are," Baucus said. "The tragedy they've suffered from is unbelievable - it's really hard to comprehend."
In addition to the amendment, Baucus said in the news release that he is working on securing a commitment for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to invest greater resources in Libby and establish a new research facility to develop new asbestos exposure treatment options.
Also, Baucus said he wants to direct more federal resources to the CARD. The CARD clinic has a done a tremendous job providing health care and screening for Libby residents, but Baucus said additional money will provide more and better care.