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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

    

EDITORIAL, THE DENVER POST, 1/23/02

An expensive mandate

Wednesday, January 23, 2002 - In his "State of the State" address, Gov.
Bill Owens asked the Colorado legislature to repeal some health care
mandates that have driven up the cost of health insurance for small
business. In that same vein, we urge the legislature to bury Senate Bill 6,
an expensive new mandate that will burden public employers and taxpayers
throughout Colorado.

SB 6, by Sen. Deanna Hanna, D-Lakewood, would require the state workers
compensation system to assume that all cases of hepatitis C in public
safety workers were contracted during the normal course of employees' jobs
and therefore must be covered under worker's compensation.

    



That sounds reasonable - until you look at the facts. The facts, as
determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are as
follows:

Most cases of hepatitis C result from "lifestyle factors," rather than
occupational risks. That's a polite way of saying that most cases result
from intravenous drug use with dirty needles or from multiple sex partners.

Public safety workers, including those performing emergency services, have
no greater risk of contracting hepatitis C than the general population.

Health care workers have the lowest risk of all occupational classes of
contracting hepatitis C.

Even if health care workers do get accidentally stuck with infected
needles, they have only a 1.8 percent chance of contracting hepatitis C.

Yet, SB 6 would ignore these scientific facts and order public employers to
assume responsibility for all cases of this disease contracted by public
safety workers unless the employer can prove, by "clear and convincing
evidence," that the employee didn't get it on the job. Since it is usually
impossible to prove the negative, that means public employers, and
ultimately Colorado taxpayers, would have to assume responsibility for the
vast majority of hepatitis C cases in public safety workers that were
actually contracted by illegal drug use or multiple sex partners. Those
costs, by the way, are huge. The Colorado Municipal League reports that a
single case of hepatitis C can require an employer to set aside $400,000 in
insurance reserves.

    



Hepatitis C, like any other injury, is already covered by workers'
compensation when it actually is incurred during the course and scope of
employment. That's as it should be. But working for the government should
not give anyone the right to bill the taxpayers for the consequences of
irresponsible private behavior.

SB 6 is unfair to Colorado taxpayers. The Senate Health, Environment,
Children and Families committee should kill it at its scheduled hearing today.