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State funding could help asbestos-related agencies stay afloat

by Brandon RobertsWestern News
| January 5, 2009 11:00 PM

Without continued state funding, local officials believe several asbestos-related agencies in Lincoln County will not survive 2009.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s office is hearing about the issue’s importance to Lincoln County through a recent letter as well as a pending community petition.

“If the state doesn’t step up to the plate, these agencies will end,” said Tanis Hernandez, outreach coordinator with the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD). “The more people the governor knows are impacted by this funding, the better off the community will be in getting the money allocated to asbestos-related health care.”

At the Dec. 11 Community Advisory Group meeting, Lincoln County representatives Chas Vincent and Jerry Bennett said it is of vital importance that the governor hear residents’ concerns.

Brad Black, Lincoln County health officer said, “What it is about is our public health. We are asking the governor to incorporate this money into the budget, emphasizing the critical need of the health of Libby residents.

“This money is so critical this year, folks are dependent upon it for health care that is failing to be covered,” Black continued. “We need these monies to cover basic health care for people who have had adverse asbestos effects.”

On Dec. 23, CAG sent a letter to Schweitzer requesting that $3.25 million be included into the biennium budget to continue asbestos-related health funding. Included in the community petition is a claim that the governor vowed to “support us into the future.” Vincent said this is the big push to contact the governor and have him stand by his words. 

The Libby Asbestos Medical Plan (LAMP) was originally funded by a $2.75 million settlement between the Environmental Protection Agency and W.R. Grace over access issues to the mine site. In 2007, Vincent pushed a $2 million asbestos funding measure through the house, which was eventually signed by the governor to the tune of $1.5 million.

Gov. Schweitzer came to Libby and presented the check to the County Board of Health to aid county agencies. During the visit, Schweitzer said he will work to maximize health reimbursements, “if that means finding a way to get the state to help… we’ll do that.”

Benefiting from the boost were the LAMP and Asbestos-Related Diseases Network (ARD-Net) agencies, which supplement health-care costs not covered by the W.R. Grace-Libby Medical Plan.

“Denial of claims has grown exponentially over the years. People are not being adequately covered,” Black said.

The Grace plan does not cover oxygen, lung surgeries or the draining of fluid from the lungs and does not recognize pain as a symptom of asbestos-related diseases. As a result, no pain medication is covered.

Hernandez said LAMP picks up the bill for these costs and works in conjunction with ARD-Net to provide in-home assistance.

“Day-to-day living can be very difficult with breathing problems,” she said. “Home assistance allows people to live at home and remain independent instead of in a nursing home.”

ARD-Net will run out of funds in June and LAMP sometime this year, according to Hernandez.

CAG member D.C. Orr said it is a very real issue for Libby.

“As I see it, health care is going to be the state’s responsibility eventually,” he said. “It is appropriate to take a proactive stance versus waiting until state funds go broke.”

Orr’s solution is for Libby to be given the status of a public health emergency.

“Skipping this legal procedure has affected the funding for CARD, LAMP and ARD-Net as well as the clean up,” he said.

Orr was pleased that the county representatives made an appearance at the December CAG meeting on their own accord to get caught up on the issues before heading into session.

Vincent is urging Lincoln County residents to contact the governor.

“It is imperative we have the governor’s support for this appropriation from the beginning,” Vincent said. “With revenue projections how they are, it is highly unlikely we will get the funding without the governor’s initial support.”

Vincent said his counterpart Bennett would introduce a bill into the 61st legislative session requesting line item funding specifically for asbestos-related care in the county.

“This is important for resident’s health-related issues to get this funding,” Vincent said.

Bennett has until Jan. 17 to submit the bill, and he has expressed a commitment to work with the governor to make the funding measure a success.

“There has been a lot of money for environmental cleanup and proportionately little money put toward taking care of the health of people being impacted by asbestos-related diseases,” Black said.

CAG Petition

Petitions are located at:

• The CARD clinic

• The EPA Information Center

• Libby City Hall

• Libby Chamber of Commerce.

• Other businesses in Libby and Troy.

For more detailed information call CARD’s Tanis Hernandez at 293-9274.

To express an opinion, call the governor’s office at 406-444-3111 or send a fax to 406-444-5529.

Comments on the LAMP funding can be submitted to Gov. Brian Schweitzer online at .