Glendale councilmembers at odds over next steps for firefighter cancer claim coverage

The saga of firefighter cancer claim coverage in Glendale is heating up once again — this time between councilmembers.
Published: May. 9, 2023 at 8:00 PM MST
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GLENDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - The saga of firefighter cancer claim coverage in Glendale is heating up once again — this time between councilmembers. One wanted to have a discussion about whether or not to adopt a policy to make sure firefighters get coverage, as they should under state law, but a majority of the councilmembers said no. The four who voted no said they didn’t believe they would face an issue with denials again.

But the City of Glendale just had another cancer claim denial in December. Arizona’s Family reported it, and they overturned it the next day. The Mayor of Glendale said they have a policy in place, but nobody can seem to find it.

It was a fiery exchange between Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers and Councilwoman Lauren Tolmachoff. “A policy, I think we have a policy,” said Mayor Weiers. “No, we don’t,” answered Tolmachoff. “That’s my personal opinion. I believe we have a policy,” said Weiers.

“Can somebody show me the policy if we have a policy? Policies aren’t just a thought, they’re actually something that exist,” Tolmachoff retorted. The mayor didn’t answer that question for the council last week.

That back and forth came after Councilmember Tolmachoff suggested the council have a discussion or workshop educating themselves on how the firefighter cancer law works, what options they have if their third party denies a claim to change that, and what the financial liabilities are.

Four out of seven councilmembers voted against having that discussion. “My biggest disappointment was that we didn’t even have the conversation,” said Tolmachoff. “I think they thought they understood the law, but obviously we just had this happen in December.”

She’s talking about Glendale firefighter Mark Fowl, who died from brain cancer just before Christmas. His claim was denied by the third-party insurer even though, under state law, it should have been covered. But one day after Arizona’s Family reported that, the city reversed the decision.

Back in 2019, the city overturned their third party’s decision to deny Glendale firefighter Kevin Thompson’s claim after months of Arizona’s Family investigations.

This is why Councilmember Jamie Aldama was in favor of a conversation. “Seeing as such that our third-party administrator is batting 300, that they deny almost every single claim that comes into them from the state of firefighters, I would say that this is absolutely important that we study this further and learn more about it,” said Aldama.

But Vice Mayor Joyce Clark and Councilmember Ray Malnar voted no because they said decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. “I just don’t believe in creating a blanket policy that says, ‘Well, you say you have cancer? Okay, we’ll pay,’” said Clark. “I believe we’re covered already. I think we follow the current law,” said Malnar.

The state law changed in 2021. Firefighters no longer have to prove where their cancer developed to be covered, and now the state has a fund to cover denied claims. But as of now, there is no guidance in that law on what happens to a claim if somebody’s cancer comes back after an original diagnosis that happened before the law changed.

That’s partly why Tolmachoff and Aldama want to discuss a policy, regardless of state law. “We’re absent of a policy, we know what the law is. But, Glendale can create a policy based on the philosophy of this council,” said Aldama. “They should know that in their time of need were going to have their back,” said Tolmachoff.

On Tuesday, Arizona’s Family asked the City of Glendale to send us the policy the mayor said already exists. The mayor addressed the issue in a city council workshop Tuesday and said he’s instructed the city manager to possibly craft legislation to take to the state to close any loopholes if somebody has a cancer recurrence to make sure that claim is covered.

They were not able to show us the city policy the mayor was referring to. Tolmachoff says it doesn’t exist.