Health Care Dollars for Asbestos-Laden Town

The benefits and drawbacks of the recently passed Affordable Care Act have been hotly debated around the nation.  However, for one small town in Montana, the Act has been called a “godsend” and a miracle, reports MSNBC.  The town of Libby, once the site of a W.R. Grace and Company vermiculite mining operation, has been suffering from asbestos contamination for years, says the article, and the health care act has provided a measure of financial relief to those burdened with asbestos-related diseases. According to MSNBC, the EPA began its cleanup efforts in Libby back in 1999, and though more than 1,250 homes and businesses have been cleaned, there is much more work to be done and the consequences of asbestos contamination continue.  Asbestos, which often accompanies vermiculite in ore deposits, is extremely dangerous when inhaled, causing a host of respiratory disease from asbestosis to mesothelioma.  Miners, who were at the greatest risk of exposure, also carried these fibers home in their hair and clothes as well as the mining waste that was used as fertilizer. Despite the high rate of health problems, the article reports, Libby was not declared a public health emergency until 2009 under the Obama administration.  To date, says MSNBC, Libby is the only public health emergency site.  Montana Senator Max Baucus claims this is the key to the newly-acquired aid: “once the declaration was made, and it was only for Libby, then it had to be implemented,” he says. In order to secure Medicare eligibility for Libby residents, Baucus added an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that would guarantee health care for those with diseases associated with a public health emergency, the article says.  According to MSNBC, Baucus and fellow Senator Jon Tester agreed that this method was the best way to gain financial resources.  “We just do not have the time to deal with that issue exclusively on the floor of the Senate.  So you look for opportunities to put it in the form of amendments to other bills, and that’s what was done here,” says Tester. As a consequence, this means that the fate of health care for Libby residents is tied to the fate of the Affordable Care Act as a whole, says the report.  MSNBC quotes another Montana politician as claiming that the Libby provision should not have been attached to so controversial a bill.  Only time will tell whether the provision, which resident Gayla Benefield describes as “a godsent to anyone with the disease or any future people who undoubtedly will be diagnosed eventually,” will hold up in the long run. References: Brown, Matthew. (May 24, 2010). “Asbestos contamination still taking toll on town.” Retrieved May 24, 2011 from MSNBC. Marquand, Ian. (May 24, 2011). “Libbycare: Miracle or Mirage?” Retrieved May 24, 2011 from MSNBC. Previous: Celebration of Mesothelioma Awareness Day Offers Hope and Support Next: NY Contractor Sentenced