Problems Brewing Over Paying Medical Bills Of Disabled Police And Firefighters

SEPTEMBER 2004
- As healthcare costs climb and municipal budgets tighten, more and
more problems have been brewing in communities that agreed to pay
directly for the medical bills of disabled police officers and
firefighters. By adopting the local option law (Section 100B of Chapter
41), a community "indemnifies" its retired police and fire, receiving
an accidental disability pension, and pays all medical bills for their
work-related injuries. Editor's Note: It's important to
remember that this is a local option law and not all cities and towns
have adopted it. In communities, that have not accepted the law,
disabled police and fire submit their bills to their health insurance
plan.

"Under the so-called
indemnification law, a community was stepping forward and recognizing
it had an ongoing obligation to provide for its injured police and fire
after they retired," according to Legislative Chairman Bill Hill.
"Unfortunately, we've witnessed more cases in which our members,
covered by indemnification, can't get their bills paid."

One
of the more serious examples currently is the City of Pittsfield, which
recently notified its disabled police and fire that the city was out of
funds and they should submit their bills through the regular insurance
plans. "I'm very upset that the city is reneging on its obligation,"
exclaims Jerry Miller, an elected member on the city's retirement board
who is, himself, a retired fire lieutenant on disability. "In my
position on the board, I've heard from fellow disabled fire and police,
who share my outrage, and see the city's actions as an insult to them.

"When
they had to retire because of their injuries, these retirees believed
that the city would indemnify them one hundred percent. Now they're
being told that they have to pay deductibles and co-pays and deal with
all the other restrictions under their regular health insurance. It's
simply not right."

"Not only have we
received calls from Pittsfield but also from Boston," reports Insurance
Coordinator Cheryl Stillman. "Members, on disability from the police,
have been complaining that their old department has been dragging its
feet when it comes to paying.

"We've
spoken with the Boston Retirement Board, whose chairman, under the
indemnification law, sits on the panel that approves payment of the
medical bills. Unfortunately, while the Board chairman, along with the
other panel members, approved payment, it's still up to the police (or
fire) department itself to actually pay it."

Moreover,
problems with the indemnification law are occurring not only in the
larger cities but also in other communities. For example, after hearing
complaints from its retirees, the Plymouth Retirement Board took action.

"Our
Board discovered that town officials were failing to comply with the
law, specifically that our chairman was being shut out from decisions
on what claims would be paid," according to Legislative Liaison Shawn
Duhamel, who also sits on the retirement board. We acted immediately to
correct the situation and our chairman is actively involved in the
process."

Our Association introduced legislation (HB 229) that we believe addresses a major complaint - long delays in paying bills.

"In
many cases involving indemnification, I had to keep checking with
officials to make certain that a medical bill, approved for payment,
was in fact paid," reports Stillman. HB 229, which is in the Public
Service, requires that a community, which has accepted indemnification,
act on a medical claim within 60 days. After 60 days and the claim was
not paid, a retiree could sue in court and if the won, be awarded their
costs, including attorney fees.

"We
sponsored the legislation because of problems that our Lynn members
were having at that time," comments Hill. "As seen by the delays with
Boston police and in other communities, there is clearly a need for
this legislation."

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