Goodyear firefighter gets cancer claim denied again despite law change last year
GOODYEAR, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- A Goodyear firefighter says it’s been seven years since he was diagnosed with work-related cancer, and since then, he’s been fighting for his cancer treatment to be covered by his employers’ insurance. But just a couple of weeks ago, Gilbert Aguirre received another denial of cancer coverage.
Aguirre was just 35 years old when he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. That specific work-related cancer has been covered under state law as a cancer that should be compensated. This latest denial comes down to which statute the City and insurance company are choosing to follow.
Twenty-two years of firefighting service for Aguirre, seven of which are his own fight behind the scenes. “Seven years of dealing with this, and you just lose hope, you lose hope in the justice system, you lose hope in the people you work for,” said Aguirre.
His form of leukemia is chronic, which means he will live with it forever. “You have to take a chemo medication for the rest of your life,” he said.
The expense of that medication is steep. “A little over $15,000 a month,” said Aguirre.
So even though he can qualify to retire, and health-wise should, due to his condition, he can’t afford to not have medical benefits to help cover that.
After Gov. Ducey expanded the firefighter cancer bill one year ago to cover more cancers and remove a requirement to prove the firefighters’ cancer was caused by toxins they were exposed to on the job, Aguirre thought he might finally get his cancer claim accepted. But two weeks ago, another denial, citing Aguirre, did not provide enough evidence that the job caused his cancer.
“Actually, on the final decision, the judge says that the defendant, which is the City of Goodyear, refuses to use the new statutes, that they want to use the old one,” Aguirre said.
CopperPoint, the third-party insurer employed by the City of Goodyear, explained that further in a statement to Arizona’s Family.
They wrote in part:
“While CopperPoint cannot comment on specific claims, it is important to recognize that changes to statutes are not generally applied retroactively unless the statute specifically provides for retroactive application. This is a position that both CopperPoint and the Industrial Commission of Arizona Judicial Division have determined is applicable to firefighter cancer claims filed prior to the effective date of statutory changes enacted in 2017 and 2021.” (Full statement at the bottom of the article.)
The City of Goodyear told Arizona’s Family they do not have the authority to reverse any decisions made by CopperPoint.
“I’ll try to keep working, I guess, until my body can’t hold up any more,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre did try to go off his chemo medication in 2018 to see if his body could hold up, but leukemia came back. His legal team has already appealed this latest denial and will continue through the appeals process.
Full statement from CopperPoint:
“In assessing the compensability of workers’ compensation claims, including cancer claims filed by first responders, CopperPoint conducts a thorough investigation into the facts and applies the applicable law to those facts. CopperPoint has previously accepted firefighter cancer claims and continues to pay benefits on these claims.
“While CopperPoint cannot comment on specific claims, it is important to recognize that changes to statutes are not generally applied retroactively unless the statute specifically provides for retroactive application. This is a position that both CopperPoint and the Industrial Commission of Arizona Judicial Division have determined is applicable to firefighter cancer claims filed prior to the effective date of statutory changes enacted in 2017 and 2021.
“CopperPoint has and will continue to rigorously investigate workers’ compensation claims and make claims decisions in accordance with all relevant Arizona law.”
CopperPoint Insurance Companies
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