Iowa Republican blocks bill to expand firefighter cancer coverage

By Ty Rushing

March 15, 2024

Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) declined to advance a bill that would provide Iowa firefighters with more comprehensive disability coverage for cancer treatment.

“In highly emotional situations like that, somebody has got to be the taxpayer’s watchdog and remove emotion and think logically about the situation,” Schultz, a former small-town fire chief, told the Iowa Standard.

HF 2482 would have expanded the legal definition of cancer to ensure that all forms of the disease would be covered for firefighters who receive disability coverage. Iowa Code currently only recognizes 14 forms of cancer.

Schultz also told the Iowa Standard that he only saw the bill five business days before it was sent over from the Iowa House, where it passed 96-0, and he had questions about it. He added that he worried about the “sky-high cost” that could stem from the bill.

An Iowa Legislative Services Agency fiscal note said the bill’s fiscal impact “on cities for additional medical costs and short-term wages cannot be determined at this time, but may be significant.”

In a Facebook post, the Des Moines Association of Professional Firefighters said its members met with Schultz last week about the bill, and he did not have a “single question about it.”

“So he was either lying then or didn’t understand what was going on,” the association wrote. “If you had more questions Mr. Schultz, that’s what the subcommittee is for. You could have had ALL your questions answered that you said you didn’t have but now do.”

Joe Van Haalen, president of Des Moines Firefighters Local 4, told Starting Line cost should not have been a concern for this bill since it doesn’t require state dollars, and his members would pay a higher pension cost to cover the difference. He said they also worked with the cities to find a way for them to use their insurance pools to lower some of those expenses.

“All the cities are self-insured so they are paying for it out of their pocket, but if you use those insurance pools, they’ve already got negotiated prices with doctors and hospitals and that kind of thing,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease and Control, cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters. Additionally, firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from it, according to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety.

During a Thursday press conference, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) expressed her frustration that the Senate chamber did not get an opportunity to debate the legislation, which she would have supported.

“The firefighters truly deserved to have that bill,” she said. 

Jochum also said lawmakers received a lot of pushback after Schultz stalled the bill.

“I know that every legislator received phone calls, emails from hundreds of firefighters and their families from all over the state [who] gave us their stories on how important that bill was to them, because they now have proof that so much of the chemicals that they’ve been exposed to on their job has really lead to all these additional cancers, and yet we are not going to address it all,” she said. “Very disappointed about that.”

Van Haalen said they have not given up on trying to get this legislation passed.

“We’ll work to see what can be done, what some of the concerns are—whether or not Senator Schultz will feel free to share that with us or not—we’re going to move forward. It’s that important to us,” he said. “Those widows and children of our firefighters deserve better than that and we are going to make sure that, that happens.”


Story was updated with comments from Joe Van Haalen, president of Des Moines Firefighters Local 4. 

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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