Skyrocketing workmen's compensations insurance costs are starting to hit municipalities hard.
A recent change in the law allows volunteer firefighters, who are covered by the policy of their township, to submit a claim in the event they are diagnosed with cancer and can trace it to a known carcinogen they were exposed to during their service.
The Warren County Council of Governments has been deliberating for several months on ways to cut insurance costs and State Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-65) attended Tuesday night's meeting to chime in to the discussion.
"This is a repeat bill," Rapp said, explaining that the bill originally sailed through the General Assembly but was vetoed by former Gov. Ed Rendell in 2009 after he heard from municipalities about some of the effects it might have .
The bill's original sponsor, Rep. Frank Ferry (R-142), who serves on the Veteran's Committee which approved the bill with Rapp, met with municipalities to "address concerns," Rapp said, explaining that she was under the impression that the bill's "negatives were addressed."
She said the bill passed through the General Assembly again and was signed by current Gov. Tom Corbett. "(I) thought that all parties were happy with the bill and now we find out that they're not," she said.
Rumblings suggest changes might be coming.
"What I'm hearing from other members of the committee, it's another bill that needs to be re-visited," said Rapp.
Providing some historical background on the measure, Rapp explained that the bill was "driven by 9/11 firefighters from Pennsylvania. That is what has driven this legislation. That was the genesis of this legislation.
"We have our firefighters going into these areas, there's a huge risk," she added. "So when our firefighters or our emergency personnel at the end of the day are diagnosed with cancer and they can trace back the cause are we obligated (or) not obligated to cover their health care? Are we obligated to help our emergency personnel who go into these areas...that's where we are."
Pleasant Township Supervisor Arden Knapp acknowledged, in part, the intent of the bill. "(I'm) not saying those who deserve it shouldn't get it," he said, but added that firefighters who "smoke three packs (of cigarettes) a day" and then make a claim because they are diagnosed with cancer shouldn't be afforded the same coverage.
"That came up in the hearings," Rapp responded. "If a firefighter is a pack-a-day smoker, that's going to come up on a medical. That would certainly be something that would be disputable."
A measure in the law requires annual physicals that can serve as a baseline for potential eligibility for a claim, but Clarendon Borough Council President Paul Pascuzzi noted that annual physicals for all of the volunteers aren't necessarily financially feasible.
But for the COG, the bottom line is costs continue to go up.
Pascuzzi said his municipality received its workmen's comp bill at last month's meeting and said that the bill was up 33 percent from the previous year. And Clarendon Borough didn't have any claims.
In seeking a new carrier, he explained, some insurers won't even consider municipalities that provide coverage for a volunteer fire department.
"(We're) probably going to revisit it because of that," Rapp said.
"We're going to have to raise our taxes," Pascuzzi said. "Guess who we're going to blame? Not the volunteer fire department. They volunteer their time and put their life on the line 24/7. We're going to blame Harrisburg."
"You should," Rapp responded. "Through any legislation you don't always know what all the unknown consequences are. Sometimes you can figure them out."