Less than half of asbestos workers diagnosed with mesothelioma file claims for workers’ compensation, even though most of those who do file receive compensation, according to a Canadian study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
Mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer that has been linked to asbestos exposure. Most of that exposure has occurred in jobs where people work with the fibrous mineral. Up to 40 years can elapse between the time when a worker is exposed to asbestos and when he or she is diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Similar to the United States, workers’ compensation in Canada covers medical costs for workers who are injured on the job. This coverage can be an invaluable help to both patients and their families. “Workers’ compensation can compensate for wage losses and treatment costs, such as prescriptions that are not covered under other insurance plans,” explains lead study author Marilyn Cree, PhD, an epidemiologist who, at the time the research was done, was working in the Department of Prevention at the Alberta Cancer Board in Alberta, Canada. “It can also pay survivor benefits to families of patients.”
Yet few mesothelioma patients are actually filing claims. When Dr. Cree and her colleagues studied all mesothelioma cases that occurred between 1980 and 2004 in Alberta, they found that only 42 percent of patients filed claims, even though most of the claims that were filed (83 percent) were accepted.
Dr. Cree isn’t sure why so few workers with mesothelioma file claims, but she has a few theories. “There may be several reasons–we know that other research has implicated factors related to both physician awareness and patient preference,” she says.
The study found that males were more likely than females to file claims (males also face a much higher rate of mesothelioma in general), and patients under age 70 were more likely to file than those over age 70. All of the patients had a confirmed diagnosis of mesothelioma in the Alberta Cancer Registry, yet only 42 percent of the workers’ compensation claims listed mesothelioma as the diagnosis. The rest of the claims listed diagnoses such as asbestosis (a lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers) or neoplasms (abnormal cells).
Although this study was done in Canada, previous research has found that under-compensation is also an issue in other countries. “It could happen in many countries because of the very long latency period [of mesothelioma] and need to show exposure was occupationally related,” Dr. Cree says.
Future studies will help researchers discover why mesothelioma is so under-reported, and how its workers’ compensation filing rates compare to those of other cancers, such as lung cancer. “Once we determine why patients aren’t filing, we can develop and implement strategies to increase rates,” Dr. Cree says. One such program, conducted in 2005 by the British Columbia Cancer Agencies, sent letters to physicians of all patients with newly diagnosed mesothelioma. The goal of this program was to increase doctor awareness. Whether it has a positive impact on workers’ compensation filing claims remains to be seen.
Editors Note: In addition to workers comp claims, people who are diagnosed with an asbestos caused disease such as mesothelioma can often bring additional claims. There are law firms that specialize in this area and may be able to help you.
Cree MW, Lalji M, Jiang B, Carriere KC. Under-reporting of compensable mesothelioma in Alberta. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 2009;52:526-533.