Randall Peters

Randall Peters (standing) fields questions about cancer benefit insurance for firefighters during a Nov. 21 Catoosa County commissioners' meeting. (Catoosa News photo/Adam Cook)

Catoosa County commissioners recently secured cancer insurance for its firefighters in order to comply with a new law that will take effect in January.

Earlier this year, Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 146, which requires municipalities to carry lump-sum cancer benefit and long-term disability insurance coverage for firefighters.

"All legally organized fire departments in Georgia are required to provide certain cancer benefits to their firefighters effective Jan. 1, 2018," said county Chief Financial Officer Carl Henson. "This long-term disability insurance is an income replacement coverage."

Henson says the county received two proposals to provide the required coverage, which is based on eligible full-time, part-time, volunteer firefighters, and recruits.

"The policy would cover them after they have served 12 effective months as firefighters for the county," Henson explained.

The lowest quote came in from Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Company in the amount of $12,378, with the second coming in at $12,556 from Chubb Accident & Insurance Company.

Henson and local insurance agent Randall Peters both recommended opting to go with the higher flat premium, which could potentially save county money in the long run.

Henson said Hartford Life's policy would include adjustments every three months based on the number of firefighters employed by the county rather than the flat fee.

Ultimately, the board voted to unanimously approve paying the additional $178 up front with no unexpected increases during the year.

"This coverage is mandated by the state to provide this coverage because of such a high rate of cancer with firefighters," Peters said.

Peters also stated that he recently heard a statistic claiming more firefighters die from cancer than die while fighting fires.

Commission Chairman Steven Henry says the approved premium is much lower than the county officials initially anticipated when they first heard of the new law.

"Actually, in the beginning, we thought is was going to be about $40,000," Henry said.

"At the time we budgeted it (the need for such insurance), it'd got down to $30,000 budgeted," Henson replied.

For clarification purposes, Commissioner Ray Johnson asked what would happen if the county didn't take on the extra coverage.

"It's hard to say exactly what would happen," County Attorney Skip Patty said. "Usually when you don't follow a state mandate, the Department of Community Affairs has the right to terminate your participation in any number of programs."

County Manager Jim Walker added that federal funding could cease for the county didn't comply with law.

Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009. He can be reached at The Catoosa County News office at 706-935-2621 and by email at acook@npco.com.