Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) told the residents of Libby, Montana, that his efforts helped to preserve aid for mesothelioma victims in the stricken town, but not without a fierce political fight. Senator Baucus attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD) in Libby, a town that once housed one of the biggest asbestos mines in the world.
The recently-passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was the subject of severe political controversy both inside and outside the Washington Beltway, will cover the costs of screening Libby residents who have been exposed to asbestos. The bill will also extend Medicare coverage to those townspeople who have contracted mesothelioma and other asbestos-related lung diseases, even if they are younger than the current Medicare cut-off age of sixty-five.
Due to the high levels of asbestos and the lack of proper safety protocols when the vermiculite mines were active, the incidence of mesothelioma in Libby is several times that of the national average. Last year, the town was the first to receive a declaration of a public health emergency from the US Environmental Protection Agency. The CARD clinic in Libby currently treats nearly 3,000 patients who have contracted mesothelioma and other asbestos-related respiratory disorders.
Senator Baucus detailed some of the political infighting that took place on the Senate floor before the bill passed. He told an enthusiastic crowd in Libby, “You don’t know how hard it was” to provide the funding needed to help the town. The new law will pay for the screening tests, such as chest X-rays, CT scans and tissue exams, which can determine the presence of cancerous tumors. Another part of the bill will provide for more education about the causes and effects of asbestos-related lung diseases.
Senator Baucus also said that the groundbreaking ceremony marked “a great day” for both the expanded clinic and the townspeople of Libby. Over the next ten years, more than $300 million in federal monies will be targeted toward the care and treatment of asbestos victims in the area. “(N)ow the people of Libby will get the health care they need and deserve,” the senator said.
Since the EPA made the emergency declaration, the town has received millions in aid. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta gave the town a grant of $2 million to defray the costs of asbestosis screening procedures, and the Health Resources Service contributed $4 million for the expenses involved in treating patients with lung damage attributable to asbestos exposure.
Mike Giesey, president of the clinic’s Board of Directors, was also present at the groundbreaking ceremony. He praised Senator Baucus’ efforts in bringing the much-needed federal aid to the town. He also said that the planned clinic expansion would help scientists who have been studying the effects of the prolonged asbestos exposure conditions at Libby to carry out more research efforts, as well as giving clinic staff and patients “more breathing room” and a better quality of care.
Dr. Brad Black, the former head of the Lincoln County Health Office, also welcomed the news. Dr. Black said that Senator Baucus did what he could “to restore health” to Libby and that the passage of the aid package “allowed (Libby) to have a voice”, despite the efforts of other politicians attempting to stop the new law.
Sources: The Libby Western News, Daily Inter Lake.com