CHARLESTON — After several years of trying, a bill to provide workers’ compensation benefits to first responders has made it to the floor of the West Virginia Senate.
House Bill 3107 permits first responder agencies like police and fire departments to offer workers’ compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder connected to the job.
The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee passed the bill Tuesday, sending it to the floor for a vote.
The bill, championed by Del. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, has been introduced several times over the past few years. It passed the House last year, but died in the Senate Finance Committee.
Previous versions of the bill mandated coverage be provided, but lawmakers had concerns about the affordability of such a mandate.
Erin Hunter, deputy insurance commissioner and counsel for the West Virginia Insurance Commission, told the committee Tuesday that benefits for PTSD are hard for insurance companies to rate because so few jurisdictions offer this benefit. Those that do offer the benefit also typically have self-funded plans, which do not report data; therefore, there is a lack of information to rate the benefit.
Hunter said there may be some self-funded first responder agencies — like Huntington and Charleston’s police and fire departments — that could afford to take this new benefit on, but it is likely out of reach for volunteer fire departments.
She said VFDs already report struggles with their insurance rates. They must buy off the private market and are subject to high rates because they are high risk.
Hunter also said there are high rates of PTSD among first responders, which could lead to the benefit being too expensive. But she said the bill is a good way for the state to dip its toes into the water and begin offering this benefit.
In a study published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, researchers found that EMS workers in the United States were about 10 times more likely to have suicidal ideations and/or attempt suicide compared to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention national average. Firefighters are also at higher risk for suicide, with one nationwide study finding 46% of firefighters had suicidal ideations.
Hunter said she worked with constituents on both sides of the matter to draft this year’s legislation.
Unlike previous years, the bill is bypassing the Senate Finance Committee and heading straight to the floor. It could be read for the first time as early as Wednesday, April 7.