Oct 04, 2022

CPF-Sponsored Workers Compensation Reform Signed by Governor

It’s a heartbreaking story that repeats time and again.   

After a career of relentless exposure to dangerous toxins, a firefighter hears that fearsome diagnosis: cancer.  By law, the illness is presumed to be job-related, and their care covered under workers’ compensation. Yet, when the individual applies for coverage required by the presumption law, they get another shock from their employer: Their claim is denied. What follows is a time-consuming, expensive and unnecessary process of validating a decision that should be a formality.

“When you’re a firefighter and you get cancer and submit that as an occupational claim, to have that denied is an atrocity,” said Bryan Frieders, President of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. “Here they are preparing for the fight of their life, and the employer they’ve been loyal to is saying ‘oh, no, that’s not covered.’”

CPF-sponsored legislation signed this year by Gov. Gavin Newsom seeks to break this cycle that is victimizing firefighters stricken with presumptive illness.

Passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Legislature, SB 1127 by Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) puts enforcement teeth back into California’s presumption laws, including the 40-year-old cancer presumption. It reduces the amount of time employers have to respond to a presumptive claim. It also revives stiff financial penalties against employers and insurers that impose unreasonable denials on members’ care.

“Injured firefighters and their families should be focused on recovery, not on fighting the workers’ compensation system,” said Sen. Atkins.

The legislation is another step toward reversing workers’ compensation rollbacks imposed nearly two decades ago during the Schwarzenegger administration. Among other things, Schwarzenegger’s legislation triggered a cruel war of attrition, in which employers and 3rd party administrators needlessly drag out the approval process.

While the 3rd party administrator rings the cash register charging administrative fees, stricken firefighters are dragged through the arduous process of confirming a job-related illness that, by law, should be determined to be job caused, unless the employer has evidence to the contrary.

“They’re hoping people will eventually just give up on the claim or, worse, die before they have to pay,” said CPF President Brian Rice.  “It happens everywhere, and it’s just wrong.”

SB 1127 also more than doubles the time that firefighters can access disability benefits replacing their wages. Instead of 104 weeks of benefits over a five-year period, it now allows 240 weeks with no time limitation.

“This is an important first step, but we’re not done,” said Rice. “Firefighters with cancer should only be focused on one thing – getting better. We’re going to continue to fight to see they are not abused by the workers’ compensation system.”