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What Senate Bill 24-089 Means for Colorado Fire Operations

Senate Bill 24-089 (SB24-089), effective upon Governor Polis’ signature on May 24, 2024, has changed the way public employers of full-time firefighters must provide heart and circulatory benefits for their employees under state law.

We hope that this summary will help explain SB24-089 and provide next steps in how to work with the Colorado Firefighter Heart, Cancer, and Behavioral Health Benefits Trust to administer a program for the firefighters in your agency.

Firefighter Heart Benefits – Prior to SB24-089

In 2014, state statutes were passed to require public agencies employing full-time firefighters to provide benefits for heart and circulatory malfunctions through self-insurance, commercial insurance, self-insurance risk pooling, or by participation in a multiple-employer health benefit trust (such as the Colorado Firefighter Heart, Cancer, and Behavioral Health Benefits Trust). The state reimbursed these agencies for the cost of benefits for full-time firefighters (but not part-time or volunteer firefighters).

How Did SB24-089 Change Firefighter Heart Benefits?

SB24-089 (which took effect on May 24, 2024) limited the method by which a public agency may provide these statutorily required cardiac benefits to full-time firefighters.

Going forward, unless a public agency has met the limited conditions to continue to self-insure the program, these cardiac and circulatory benefits must be provided through the Colorado Firefighter Heart, Cancer, and Behavioral Health Benefits Trust.

What is the Colorado Firefighter Trust?

The Colorado Firefighter Heart, Cancer, and Behavioral Health Benefits Trust (the “Colorado Firefighter Trust”) was created to address the costs to the employers, and the serious health conditions and complications for their employees, from cardiac stressors in the fire services. The Colorado Firefighter Trust meets these goals by providing mandated cardiac and voluntary cancer benefits to eligible public employers and individuals in the fire service, as required by statute, as well as providing health screenings and safety grants to proactively address and prevent health complications.

The Colorado Firefighter Trust’s Heart Program was designed with input from numerous stakeholders, including Colorado Professional Fire Fighters, Colorado State Fire Chiefs, and Colorado Division of Insurance, as well as individuals from municipal, county, and special district fire agencies.

What does this mean for me?

For employees: the firefighter heart benefit program laws were put in place to eliminate the red tape and out-of-pocket expenses associated with heart and circulatory care experienced under Workers’ Compensation, which made it difficult to access the healthcare benefits firefighters had earned. SB24-089 did not reduce or change the statutorily-mandated benefits for eligible full-time firefighters and it did not limit the ability of a public agency to voluntarily work with the Colorado Firefighter Trust to provide benefits to part-time and volunteer firefighters.

For employers who are not already a part of the Trust: unless your public agency falls under the limited exception in SB24-089 to self-insure, SB24-089 may reasonably be interpreted to require your participation in the Colorado Firefighter Trust for the mandated benefits for your full-time firefighters.

We are currently working on our implementation plan to onboard statutorily-eligible public agencies as new Colorado Firefighter Trust members as seamlessly as possible. Your governing body will need to join the Colorado Firefighter Trust as a Member by approving a resolution (or similar official action) to join, as it may have done for other intergovernmental agreements similar to the Trust Agreement. A copy of the Colorado Firefighter Trust Agreement, and a template resolution, are available on our “Documents” webpage. Over the next few months, we will continue communicating where we are at in this process. We know you will have many questions. Please direct them to cfhtrust@mcgriff.com.

The changes from SB24-089 which are discussed above only affect your statutory obligation to provide the firefighter heart benefit program to full-time firefighters.

Please note that House Bill 24-1219 also relates to firefighter heart and cancer statutory benefits by providing additional state funding for part-time and volunteer firefighters of public agencies over five (5) years. More information on the implementation of this separate legislation will be provided in the fall.

COLORADO FIREFIGHTER BENEFITS TRUST ADDS SUPPORT FOR BEHAVIORAL HEALTH


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 27 March 2023 11:15:05

COLORADO FIREFIGHTER BENEFITS TRUST ADDS SUPPORT FOR BEHAVIORAL HEALTH
SB 22-002 provides coverage for behavioral health needs for Colorado firefighters

Denver, Colorado—2022—Today, the Colorado Firefighter Benefits Trust (officially, Colorado Firefighter Heart, Cancer, and Behavioral Health Benefits Trust) adds vital coverage to address firefighters’ behavioral health needs. The Trust has automatically extended coverage for all Colorado firefighters to receive reimbursement for behavioral and mental health treatment that is not already covered by any other employer-offered program or pre-existing insurance plan. Coverage extends to include marriage and family counseling for spouses and children, as long as a firefighter is also participating.

Lieutenant Mike Frainier, Vice President of the International Association of Fire Fighters’ 9th District in Colorado agrees, “The extension of behavioral health support to the Trust is groundbreaking and cannot come at a better time for Colorado firefighters struggling to find a way to afford treatment options. This program offers a private, confidential way to be reimbursed for treatment, and it is available whether you are a member of the Trust or not.” There is no cost to participate while the limited funding lasts. Fire service operations are enrolled automatically, per SB 22-002, to start using these benefits today.

The Colorado Firefighter Benefits Trust is reimbursing deductibles, co-pays, and out of pocket behavioral health expenses not covered by existing fire operations’ benefit programs. They will also reimburse for additional treatments and therapies, even after a firefighter’s current insurance or employee assistance plan benefits run out. The Trust is now accepting claims for reimbursement of services performed on or after February 10, 2023.

Full program details, including marketing materials geared toward fire departments, are available at cfhtrust.org/behavioral. An overview of the program is available on our introductory webinar.

 

About the Colorado Firefighter Benefits Trust

The Colorado Firefighter Benefits Trust was created to aid the state’s fire professionals and agencies contain the human and financial burdens created by serious health issues by providing mandated cardiac, voluntary cancer, and behavioral health benefits to Colorado firefighters. The Trust program was designed with input from the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters, Colorado State Fire Chiefs, the state Division of Insurance, and municipal, county, and special district fire agencies.

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Colorado Firefighter Benefits Trust Adds Support For Behavioral Health

The names of companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

For more information, press only:

Alex Terlecky

aterlecky@mcgriff.com

Cfhtrust.com

Introducing the Behavioral Health Program

What is the Behavioral Health Program?

We are pleased to announce the addition of the Behavioral Health Program to the Colorado Firefighter Benefits Trust. Beginning immediately, we have automatically extended coverage for all Colorado firefighters to receive reimbursement for behavioral and mental health treatment that is not already covered by any other employer offered programs. Coverage has been extended to cover spouses and children of firefighters for family and marriage counseling. This extension of coverage is defined under SB 22-002, which was signed into law in 2022, and is available as long as funding lasts from the state. Our website will be kept with up-to-date information on remaining funds.

Whether your department already has an existing EAP or behavioral health plan in place and need supplemental coverage, or if you have no pre-existing treatment plan, we are now accepting claims to support your department and staff. There is no cost to participate as long as the limited funding lasts. As a fire service operation, you are enrolled automatically, per SB 22-002, to start using these benefits today.

What Do We Reimburse?

We are reimbursing deductibles, co-pays, and out-of-pocket behavioral health expenses not covered by existing fire operations’ benefit programs. We will also reimburse for additional treatments and therapies, even after your current program benefits run out. If you do not currently have a behavioral health provider, we have provided a list of providers that specialize in First Responders and trauma support below.

Services must be paid by the participant up-front, with requests for the reimbursement filed as a claim. Full details on how to file a claim, and recommended providers, are found on our website at cfhtrust.com/behavioral/.

Commonly Reimbursed Services

There are an extensive number of behavioral and mental health support and treatment options, with more being developed each year as research develops. These are some of the most common, and most effective treatment types that are available for firefighters and first responders. These are also services that the Behavioral health Program commonly provide reimbursement for.

  • Talk Therapy: This is a form of psychotherapy that involves talking to a mental health professional to address emotional, psychological, and mental health issues. This type of therapy can help firefighters and first responders process traumatic events they may have experienced on the job and develop coping mechanisms.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This type of therapy is designed to help people identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to mental health issues. CBT can be effective in treating anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in firefighters and first responders.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This type of therapy is a form of talk therapy that involves eye movements to help people process and heal from traumatic experiences. It has been shown to be effective in treating PTSD in first responders.
  • Group Therapy: This type of therapy involves talking to a mental health professional and other individuals facing similar issues. Group therapy can provide support, validation, and practical coping strategies for firefighters and first responders dealing with mental health challenges.
  • Peer Support Programs: This type of support program involves pairing up first responders and firefighters with peers who have undergone similar experiences. This type of program can be beneficial in creating a supportive community and promoting healing.
  • Resiliency Training: This type of training program focuses on building resilience and emotional well-being in firefighters and first responders. It can teach individuals skills for managing stress, handling traumatic experiences, and developing a support network.

It’s important to note that mental health treatment is not one-size-fits-all and that the best approach may vary from person to person. It’s important for firefighters and first responders to work with mental health professionals to determine the most effective treatment plan for their individual needs.

It is true that firefighters and first responders are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues due to the nature of their work. However, there are many effective mental health treatment options available, including talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, group therapy, peer support programs, and resiliency training. These options can help individuals improve their mental health and well-being and continue to serve their communities.

THYROID CANCER NOW COVERED BY THE COLORADO FIREFIGHTER HEART AND CANCER BENEFITS TRUST


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 23 August, 2022 08:15:05

THYROID CANCER NOW COVERED BY THE COLORADO FIREFIGHTER HEART AND CANCER BENEFITS TRUST
Program addition is a win-win for firefighters and employers addressing cancer risk in the fire service

DENVER – August 23, 2022 – The Colorado Firefighter Heart and Cancer Benefits (CFHC) Trust Committee has voted to add thyroid cancer coverage for all firefighters beginning July 1, 2022.

The vote reversed a decision in 2020 by the CHFC to deny coverage for thyroid cancer due to a lack of scientifically creditable data, the CHFC said at the time. The organization decided to add coverage after three thyroid cancer claims were filed in three years (up from one every 10 years historically).

With recent studies showing both male and female firefighters at a higher risk for thyroid cancer, likely due to poor sleep and working with endocrine disrupting chemicals, the Trust surveyed its members. There were 44 out of 46 responses supporting the addition of thyroid cancer coverage, representing 55% of participating members. Support came from a wide range of fire department sizes, including departments with five or fewer firefighters to large departments with over 100 firefighters. The responses represent approximately 1,724 eligible firefighters out of the 3,446 firefighters in the CFHC Trust’s Cancer Program.

“The addition of thyroid cancer to our program is certainly another major step forward in helping our firefighters beat the cancers that disproportionately impacts their health as members of the fire service,” said Mike Frainier, president of the Colorado Professional Firefighters and Chair of the CFHC Trust Committee.

The Trust Committee consists of four fire chiefs, one representative from the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters, two HR professionals, one risk manager, and one public official. The CFHC Trust allows participating fire organizations to opt out of the presumption of cancer for workers’ compensation. To date the Trust has approved roughly 95% of claims covering the brain, digestive, genitourinary, hematological, and skin cancers.

 

About the CHFC Trust

The CFHC Trust was created to aid the state’s fire professionals and agencies contain the human and financial burdens created by serious health issues by providing mandated cardiac and voluntary cancer benefits to Colorado firefighters. The Trust program was designed with input from the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters, Colorado State Fire Chiefs, the state Division of Insurance, and municipal, county, and special district fire agencies.

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Thyroid Cancer Now Covered by the Colorado Firefighter Heart and Cancer Benefits Trust The names of companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

For more information, press only:

Alex Terlecky

aterlecky@mcgriff.com

Cfhtrust.com

Heart Fitness Grant Funds Expiration Deadline Extended

Expiration of the Firefighter Heart and Fitness Grant funds, allocated between 2017 and 2019, has been extended to June 30, 2022.

Firefighter Heart and Fitness Grant funds can be used to provide reimbursement for costs associated with participation in Colorado State University’s CORE program or a similar basic level of heart health testing. Funds can also be used for cancer screenings or cancer screening expenses. Full program details, including the online reimbursement applications, can be found on our website.

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