Should Insurers Pay Back for Treating Asbestos Victims?
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The Scottish Parliament debated this very question this week. The debate was prompted because of proposals made by the asbestos victim support group ‘Clydeside Action on Asbestos’.
The proposals were that in cases where asbestos victims were successful in suing for compensation following their development of an asbestos related condition, the insurance company who pays out the compensation to the asbestos victim should also have to pay back the NHS for any medical treatment that the victim has received for that asbestos related condition.
Arguments were made by SNP members, such as Stuart McMillan that it is not fair that the financial burden of providing healthcare to victims of asbestos related disease should rest solely on the taxpayer when the companies that exposed those workers to asbestos are insured. The debate said that it is estimated that the NHS spends around £20 million a year on diagnosing and treating people who are suffering from asbestos related conditions, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis. Arguments for the motion centred on the insurers shouldering the financial burden rather than the taxpayer and also that the money could be used to fund better research and treatments and care for asbestos related diseases and cancers. The point was made that mesothelioma; an asbestos related cancer, is only caused by asbestos, so the responsibility for paying for treatment for this horrific condition ‘should be entirely at the door of those who caused it.’
The debate was not all one way though. Hanzala Malik of Labour, while sympathising greatly, raised concerns about going down this road and said in his view that it was ‘the duty of the government and not the companies, to meet these costs.’ Jackson Carlow, a conservative, also voiced his concerns about the proposal, saying: “should the health service have recourse against the manufacturers of food, in relation to people who suffer from obesity? Should the NHS recover from the alcohol industry, the costs of treating people who suffer alcoholism?”
Mention was also made of the Welsh Assembly’s Bill on this very issue, which was passed late last year to allow the NHS to recover the costs from insurers of treating asbestos related conditions. The Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill, was introduced by Labour backbencher Mick Antoniw. The insurance industry have challenged the Welsh Assembly saying that the bill goes beyond its law making powers and this issue has been referred to the Supreme Court, who should be considering it and ruling on the issue this summer.
So what do you think?
Is it fair that the insurance industry should pay back a cash strapped NHS for treating asbestos patients in cases where they have been found liable to pay the asbestos victim in a civil compensation claim, or is it a step too far as some think, opening a Pandora’s box, where victims of various illnesses or conditions could argue the insurance industry should pick up the tab for their treatment too?
Clearly in this age of austerity, this is an argument that will not go away. Personally, I don’t see why in cases where the insurer is liable to pay out the victim in a civil compensation claim, they should not also pay the NHS back for the treatment provided. There is some precedent for this in that case law has established that it is possible in certain circumstances, to recover the costs of hospice care for a hospice in mesothelioma cases, despite the fact that the mesothelioma sufferer did not pay for that care. Why not extend this principle to the NHS? If some of this money could be used to help find a cure for mesothelioma or better treatment, then this would be fantastic.
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