Concerned about delays in compensation for the many victims of the Libby, Montana asbestos disaster, two senators are trying their best to get Medicare to waive liens that have been placed on impending settlements for these individuals who have sickened by exposure to the asbestos-tainted vermiculite from the W.R. Grace mine that long operated in that small town.
Earlier this week, according to an article in the Ravali Republic, Senator Max Baucus visited the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD) clinic in Libby to meet with patients and to talk to board members about the state of the program there and to let them know about his plea to Medicare, a plea he’s made along with fellow senator Jon Tester.
The CARD clinic was established in 2000 to provide screenings and health care to individuals stricken by asbestos diseases like mesothelioma due to their exposure to the tainted vermiculite, used in W.R. Grace products such as Zonolite insulation. During the first year funding became available for screenings at CARD, 783 individuals were screened, 74 percent of whom were under the age of 65. Nearly three-quarters were diagnosed with some sort of asbestos disease, acknowledged said Tanis Hernandez, administrative director at CARD.
During Baucus’ most recent visit to the clinic, he noted his pleasure in how far the clinic has come – it doubled its size in 2010 thanks to a grant – and how much more is now available to victims of asbestos disease. Nonetheless, he and Tester see the Medicare waiver as another necessary hurdle to tackle in the fight to make the needs of these victims known.
“Those harmed by the Libby asbestos contamination have already been subject to liens on the small settlement reached by the state of Montana,” Baucus and Tester stated in the letter to Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “These individuals are seeking a waiver so that new settlements can be distributed without the expense and delay of Medicare lien processing.”
Because many of the Libby, Montana patients, some of whom worked for W.R. Grace and Co., were treated under Medicare, that agency has a right to recover the cost of any medical treatment for which it paid due to negligence by another party, notes an article in the Daily Inter Lake. This is part of the laws administered under the Medicare Secondary Payer System, explained Baucus.
“But, the process to determine how much Medicare is owed has [dragged] on for more than one year, preventing the settlements from being finalized and keeping victims from the compensation they deserve,” said the two senators. Hence, many have received nothing. Baucus and Tester hope to see that change soon.
“The senators have asked the federal agency to grant the waiver commensurate with the savings to Medicare that the claimants have secured. That’s an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million,” said an attorney for several of the victims.“This is a type of result that’s good for Medicare, and is a policy matter I think Medicare should be encouraging. It’s a result that saves Medicare money.”