Firefighter's widow testifies for cancer law funding

Christine Jameson fought back tears as she recounted the death of her husband Kyle, which was compounded by massive bills she didn't know how she could pay

By Max Sullivan
Portsmouth Herald

CONCORD, N.H. — Christine Jameson fought back tears at the State Senate Tuesday as she recounted the death of her husband Kyle, 33, a Hampton firefighter. Her devastating loss was compounded by massive bills she didn't know how she could pay.

She shared her story with the Senate Finance Committee in support of a bill that would prevent other firefighters' families from having to go through the same ordeal.

"Every morning when I wake up, I'm faced with the reality that my partner and the love of my life is never coming back, and that these emotional and financial challenges are for me to face without him," she told the senators through her tears.

The Jamesons were forced to move to New York City when Kyle received treatment for T Cell prolymphocytic leukemia in early 2016, his cancer believed by medical professionals to be work-related. Still, the family went unaided by worker's compensation benefits promised in state law to firefighters diagnosed with cancer.

Christine, self-employed and caring for their infant son Liam, struggled to pay costs that included a $6,500-per-month New York apartment and private childcare to reduce the risk of exposure to bacteria that could harm his father. Kyle died in May that year, leaving Christine to rethink her and Liam's financial future having lost her husband's income and a retirement plan they hoped would help carry them through life.

Christine was testifying in favor of a bill that would pay for benefits the Legislature passed into law more than three decades ago but has yet to fund. She was joined by a group of Hampton firefighters, who accompanied her for support and watched Liam, now 2, while she testified.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Dan Innis, R-New Castle, would fund the state's presumptive cancer law through a surcharge on Granite State insurance policies. State law says cancer is presumed to be a work-related illness for firefighters under certain conditions, but the state Constitution prohibits unfunded mandates on municipalities by the state without a funding mechanism.

The presumptive cancer law was passed in the 1980s but was successfully challenged before the New Hampshire Supreme Court in 1990 as an unfunded mandate. Firefighters have advocated for the law to be funded for years but have so far been unsuccessful.

The bill filed by Innis would create the firefighters with cancer disease fund, and it would be funded through a new surcharge on insurance policies in New Hampshire. Innis said the cost would be approximately $4 per insurance policy, a cost likely to be passed on to policy holders and one he said in testimony would amount to "pennies a day" for those who pay it. He said the goal would be for the fund to reach $10 million, at which point the surcharge on insurance policies would decrease.

Innis' father-in-law, a former firefighter, recently died from lung cancer despite never being a cigarette smoker. Innis believes his father-in-law's profession increased his risk of getting cancer, and he said he could relate to firefighters who approached him last year about filing a bill to fund New Hampshire's presumptive cancer law.

"It's to try to get a little help to these folks and to recognize that they're more likely to get cancer than the general population, and that should be recognized," he said.

Innis said the funding idea is "pretty unique" compared to how benefits for firefighters with cancer are funded in other states. He said the bill's bipartisan support could indicate it has a chance to pass, although he anticipates some debate about adding a surcharge to insurance policies.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Gary Daniels, R-Milford, said he was impressed with testimony in favor of the bill, but on Wednesday said he believed it was too soon to comment on whether he supports the bill.

The New Hampshire Association of Domestic Insurance Companies and the American Insurance Association submitted written testimony opposing the bill, according to Daniels. They argue homeowners and business insurers would pay the cost of providing benefits to firefighters, imposing a disproportionate tax on one group of taxpayers to fund something that benefits the general public, he said.

Even though the Jamesons were promised benefits under state statute, the bill would only fund families of future firefighters diagnosed with cancer and not apply retroactively to firefighters who would have met criteria for worker's compensation in the past. Bill McQuillen, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire and a Portsmouth fire captain, said New Hampshire lawmakers have a history of being reluctant to pass bills for retroactive funding, and pursuing such a bill was deemed impractical.

Tuesday was tiring and stressful for Christine and the Hampton firefighters as they relived their experience of losing Kyle, they said after returning from Concord. Firefighters from departments around the region recall Kyle as a loving, fun person with an infectious smile. A weeping cherry tree was planted in front of the Hampton Fire Department last year in Kyle's memory.

Kyle was diagnosed the year before his death. Christine said living without her husband has been a daily struggle she believes will remain with her for the rest of her life, but she added she is also learning to live with her loss.

"The days aren't as dark now. I'm able to smile more," Christine said, "but there's still definitely a lot of pain, and a lot of days (when) it hits you like a ton of bricks."

The Jamesons were relying on Kyle's retirement to secure their family financially down the road. Without the presumptive cancer law funded, Christine said Kyle's benefits amounted to less than $100 a week.

"With him dying, it was kind of the same thing as if he left the job early as opposed to fulfilling his career," Christine said. "It felt like pennies compared to (Kyle's) retirement plan. ... Suddenly, your life is cut short and you have to come up with plan B."

As Kyle battled his cancer, he advocated for awareness of cancer in firefighters and openly shared his story. His fellow firefighters have said the Jameson family is one example of why the state's cancer law must be funded.

"A big part of his legacy is drawing as much awareness to this as possible, and I know wholeheartedly he would be supportive (of Innis' bill)," said Jed Carpentier, a Hampton firefighter and president of the Hampton firefighters union.

Copyright 2018 Portsmouth Herald

Christine Jameson Testifies on Cancer Coverage Bill

Powerful testimony this afternoon in Senate Finance from Christine Jameson, whose husband Kyle, a Hampton Firefighter, died of cancer in 2016. She and others in the fire service are supporting SB541, sponsored by Senator Dan Innis, which would provide a mechanism to finally make cancer a *funded* worker's compensation claim for New Hampshire firefighters.

Posted by Adam Sexton WMUR on Tuesday, January 23, 2018


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