Short Takes On News & Events

Petition Calls For Hurricane Sandy First Responder Health Benefits

By Ankita Rao

November 3rd, 2012, 10:03 AM

From leading evacuees through flooded streets to carrying a family pet out of a collapsing home, first responders have been dubbed the heroes of Hurricane Sandy. But not all of them had health benefits as they headed into the disaster zones this week.

Firefighters stand among the remains of buildings consumed by fire in Queens, N.Y., during Hurricane Sandy (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images).

While local, full-time police, firefighters and EMTs have full coverage, first responders also come from the Reservist Program, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s network of trained disaster relief workers who serve on an on-call basis. Part-time workers make up about 70 percent of FEMA’s workforce, of which 2,300 total employees have been involved with hurricane relief efforts.

Reservists are paid a flat rate of between $11.29 and $42.03 per hour when they are in travel, on duty or training – usually about 30 days at a time. The jobs do not include health insurance, annual leave or retirement benefits since they are meant to be temporary. According to a FEMA document, reservists who are sick or injured “while in the performance of duty” may be eligible for benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act.

Dena Patrick, founder of a social charitable website, Wishadoo, started a Change.org petition on Monday to argue for FEMA reservists to get health benefits. “I feel that our priorities are skewed,” said Patrick.

Patrick said she was motivated to act by her friend, a reservist, who she said works 300 days a year and is not insured. When Hurricane Sandy hit, Patrick realized that other first responders were not covered unless they had a separate insurance plan. As of Saturday morning the petition had more than 4,900 signatures.

For some first responders, health benefits are not an issue. Mark Bosma, spokesperson for Vermont’s emergency management department, said the majority of on-call disaster workers in his state work full-time for the government and are covered by their permanent jobs. If disaster strikes they are usually working in their usual specialty – be it transportation or road assistance.

This isn’t the first time federal support for first responders has been scrutinized.  John Lauer, a seasonal firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, received 126,000 signatures on his online petition for firefighter health coverage during the wildfires that raged in Colorado earlier this year. Like the FEMA reservist cadres, seasonal firefighters work only part of the year and didn’t receive year-round benefits.  On July 10, President Obama called on federal agencies to provide coverage for the firefighters.

This year also ended part of a decade-long battle over extended health care coverage for 9/11 emergency service workers. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety announced that 50 types of cancer would be covered under the health care program to support who had been exposed to the environmental hazards at Ground Zero.

Patrick is optimistic that her voice will also be heard on behalf of the reservists.

“Any time it’s been brought to the public’s attention that first responders aren’t treated adequately, it’s been my experience that everyone is absolutely supportive,” she said.

Patrick was not aware of how many FEMA reservists do not have health insurance. FEMA did not immediately return calls for comment.

Sarah Kliff of The Washington Post’s Wonkblog reported Saturday that Congress has looked at the issue in the past. In 2009, Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) introduced legislation to allow disaster assistance employees to be eligible for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. At that time, Oberstar’s office found FEMA had 9,106 disaster assistance employees with only 770 qualified for FEHB. He also found that most of the remaining disaster employees did not qualify for other employer-sponsored insurance, Kliff reported.

12 Responses to “Petition Calls For Hurricane Sandy First Responder Health Benefits”

  1. rich says:

    If we had a universal single-payer healthcare system like they have in the UK and in Canada and in most industrialized and civilized nations around the world, first responders wouldn’t have to worry about themselves and their families, would they? Not in America! In America, if you get sick and need healthcare, you are on your own!

  2. Carl says:

    If we have “a universal single-payer healthcare system like they have in the UK and in Canada and in most industrialized and civilized nations around the world” as Rich says, we would have the same second rate, outdated coverage they have. This is very obvious in cancer treatments, which I have some first hand experience in. Granted, I have good insurance, but I have already been told the coverage I have with my present insurance will not even be available under “Oamacare.” AND, “Obamacare” will cost me more per month than my present insurance does. (about $1100/month is what I pay now) We need reform in our healthcare system, but the Feds need to stay out of it!

  3. longshot says:

    The GOP will block this, just like they blocked a similar bill for responders to 9/11, and bills to help our disabled and homeless veterans. But the GOP are real patriots….

  4. Tim says:

    Stop fearing change so much. It’s part of life. Learn to evolve and adapt. The time for healthcare reform has come. These people nor anyone else should have to worry about healthcare in one of the richest countries in the world.

    Are you really so naive you think other people who don’t have coverage don’t affect you or the ones you love ? Diabetics go into coma while driving, mental patients pick up weapons and flip out, unmanaged chronic pain can drive people over the edge, people are cooking your food who can’t afford to go to the doctor- imagine they have a neglected infectious disease, etc.

  5. rich says:

    Hey Carl;

    For 50 million uninsured Americans and for another estimated 25 million underinsured Americans, what do they have? Huh? Almost 1/4th of our population has NOTHING! Why? Because they can’t afford it. If they lived in the UK, they’d at least get something and not have to be in poverty to get it. If they lived in Canada, they wouldn’t have to fear losing their home if they got the type of cancer that you wear like a badge of courage. Fear not Carl. It’s coming! Obamacare is just a baby step in the direction of UK style health care. It’s only a matter of time before people realize that they are just one pay check away from losing it all and dropping out and getting their healthcare like the rest of the poor. At the hospital emergency room. Obamacre is a watered down piece of crap. Had it a public option, it might have generated some “real” competition among the private insurers. However, the insurance lobby was successful in keeping that out of the new law….AT LEAST FOR A WHILE! It’s inevitable! It’s coming! It’s just a matter of time. Will healthcare be as “state-of-the-art” as you say it is? Maybe not. But at least everyone will be covered. At least paying for cancer treatment won’t drive you into poverty.

  6. hellen c. says:

    Rich is correct. There are way too many people that are uninsured in America. Do they get healthcare? Yes they do. The most expensive healthcare available. At the hospital emergency ward. Usually, when they show up at the ER, they get tested and those tests reveal lots of bad things and they get admitted as an inpatient. As an inpatient, the costs skyrocket and who pays? We do! Those of us with insurance pay for the uninsured. The costs of treating the non-paying uninsured show up in higher hospital costs for everyone else. The key to solving this problem is to make sure the system covers everyone. That is the only answer. A system with “haves” versus “have nots” simply will not work. If we have to settle for less state-of-the-art care in order to get everyone covered, so be it. That’s how it works in other countries. I guess we will soon join their ranks and have universal single-payer healthcare.

  7. daryl c. says:

    Carl, help me understand. Under Obamacare, as I read the law, virtually everyone will be paying for healthcare insurance so that nobody with a middle-class income will pay more than 7 percent of that income for healthcare. It’s the result of having a huge risk pool. So, if I do the math, paying $1100 per month today, under Obamacare you’d need to be earning almost $190K per year if $1100 per month ($13,200 per year) represents 7 percent of your income. Is that true? Do you earn $190K per year? If you do, then why are you so worried that costs are going up. At $190K per year, you can afford the most expensive insurance on the market! Most middle-class working Americans don’t earn anywhere near $190K per year. Not even close! A family that earns $50K per year will only pay 7 percent for healthcare which equates to $3500 per year ($292 per month). You really need to read the law Carl. Most people haven’t read the law yet. Most people are listening to “death panel” spouting Republicans. Most people get their information exclusively from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. It’s a shame that so many people are duped into believing such blatant lies.

  8. John Spek says:

    DARYL C. SAYS:

    “Carl, help me understand. Under Obamacare, as I read the law, virtually everyone will be paying for healthcare insurance so that nobody with a middle-class income will pay more than 7 percent of that income for healthcare. It’s the result of having a huge risk pool. ”

    Not Correct on 2 counts

    First – it is 9.5% of gross income – that’s pre-tax

    Second – the rate adjustment is because taxpayers will be taxed to fund the remaining premium – called a tax credit – that is paid to the insurer directly from the U S Treasury

  9. John Spek says:

    RICH SAYS:
    Maybe not. But at least everyone will be covered. At least paying for cancer treatment won’t drive you into poverty.

    Not Correct on 2 points

    First No – everyone will not be covered 30 million will still not get coverage because they are not legally here. Another 10 million or more will opt out legally. And 10 – 50 million will decline the coverage and take the fine – since the fine is 1/10 the cost of coverage

    Uncompensated care is expected to drop from 45 Billion per year to about 20 Billion
    For that 250 Billion 10 year cost decrease, Taxpayers are paying 1.7 Trillion
    Quite the bargain

    Second – people will still lose everything over unpaid medical bills. If you lose coverage due to non-payment – you still have medical bills but no insurance.
    Taxpayer funding or no taxpayer funding is based on documented annual income – so if you had a good job, got sick and could not work, could not pay COBRA – you still lose coverage.
    Copays and deductibles also still exist and must be paid.
    Nowhere is there a free lunch.

  10. John Spek says:

    RICH SAYS:

    If we had a universal single-payer healthcare system like they have in the UK and in Canada and in most industrialized and civilized nations around the world, first responders wouldn’t have to worry about themselves and their families, would they?

    We do have single payer

    Medicaid and Medicare

    Medicaid only covers 80% of SOME of the bill – people still lose all assets while on Medicare because of the unpaid parts of Medicare

    Medicare denies more claims than all private insurers combined – those denied claims also bankrupt seniors

    Medicare and Medicaid both are not accepted by a majority of providers and many clinics – so even though they may have coverage – people have difficulty finding a doctor to accept them

    Rich – maybe you should sit down with someone who knows the system – how it works, and how it does not work

    Although you posts sound good – reality is another topic

  11. donna l. says:

    John Spek…

    I’ve researched every point that you try to make against Rich and Daryl. Here’s my suggestion. You need to read the law! You have gotten every point either completely wrong or merely half right. Nothing you have posted is completely true. It’s sounds like the same old political spin that we keep hearing from those who oppose the PPACA just to score political points. If you can read, take some time and read the law. Otherwise, get a friend to do it for you. Preferably someone who can comprehend what they read. In my opinion, you obviously have a problem either with reading or comprehension or both.

  12. lawrence O. says:

    “Although you posts sound good – reality is another topic”

    Reality? I see much more of that in what Rich and Daryl post.

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