How health care reform is changing Libby asbestos victims benefits

Aug 22, 2013

The CARD Clinic of Libby is a non-profit organization providig asbestos screening and healthcare to people exposed to asbestos.
Credit Katrin Frye

Right now people living with Asbestos related diseases contracted from the W-R Grace mine in Libby and living in Flathead or Lincoln Counties receive additional Medicare benefits. These benefits include compensation for medical-related travel expenses and medicine not traditionally covered through Medicare.

But, if they now live outside of Lincoln or Flathead Counties, those benefits are not available.

When the Environmental protection agency declared Libby a public health emergency in 2009 the residents became entitled to health care. However, Libby is the first Superfund site ever declared a public health emergency, and there was no mechanism in place to provide the health care.

Senator Max Baucus said he included that mechanism in the health care reform law. Baucus said he’s pleased that Medicare benefits are now available to asbestos victims whether they’ve reached the age of 65 or not.

Additional benefits available through the Medicare Pilot Program include special home services like shoveling snow, stacking firewood, housekeeping, grocery shopping, and other daily living assistance. They also include special medical equipment like oxygen; medications not usually covered by Medicare like anti-anxiety drugs; travel expenses for medical treatment, special counseling, and nutritional supplements.

Senator Baucus said the goal now is to extend those benefits to people like Troyer, living outside Lincoln and Flathead Counties. He recently brought Administrator of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Marilyn Tavenner to Libby to meet with staff at the Center for Asbestos Related Disease and people affected by asbestos related disease, but living outside of Libby.

Tavenner said the visit helps her understand how mobile the community is.

“Which I don’t think I appreciated, the second thing, is, sitting there, listening to stories about people who had lost a spouse, a parent, multiple children, I just… it’s overwhelming, so, I’ll take that back, and that will drive my decision about how to make sure that everybody is taken care of, screened early, treated as appropriately as possible,” Tavenner said her office has the authority to extend these benefits, they need to figure out how to administer it.

CARD Clinic Statistics

  • 1,861 people screened in the past 2 years
    • 923 diagnosed with Asbestos Related Disease
    • 317 of those diagnosed living outside Lincoln/Flathead Counties
  • 569 previously diagnosed patients live outside Lincoln/Flathead Counties