Bill inspired by Cinnaminson firefighter's death reworked

Legislation inspired by a Cinnaminson firefighter's sudden death and his family's ensuing loss of health coverage has undergone significant revisions but is poised for a possible Assembly floor vote.

Bill 4062, sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, is intended to address an issue that arose after Lt. Chris Hunter died suddenly last year from a cardiac event, less than 19 hours after he finished a shift.

Hunter's passing was ruled by state health insurers to be an active-duty death because it occurred within 24 hours of his last shift. But because it did not occur in the line of duty, his wife and two young children were not eligible for continued medical coverage and were forced to pay a $1,700 premium for COBRA insurance.

The bill as originally written sought to address the issue by requiring local governments to negotiate an extended coverage provision with their medical insurance carriers to ensure that the families of police officers, firefighters or emergency medical service members who die within 24 hours of going off duty remain covered for six months.

The original bill was voted out of the Assembly Labor Committee in March, but Singleton rewrote it to address concerns that the extended coverage requirement was an unfunded mandate outlawed under the state constitution.

The state Pension and Health Benefits Review Commission also raised concerns that the measure might unintentionally disqualify families of deceased first responders from obtaining COBRA coverage, which is typically available for 36 months after employer-provided health insurance is lost.

To address those concerns, Singleton reworked the bill so dependents of first responders who suffer active-duty deaths may apply to the state for reimbursement of the costs for the first six months of COBRA coverage. The bill also would appropriate $750,000 to the Department of Treasury for those reimbursements.

Singleton said he was proud of the changes, particularly since they addressed the criticism raised by Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-26th of Morris Plains, that the bill would place a cost burden on towns and other local governments.

"It's a true embodiment of what I think is the very best nature of our (governing) body," Singleton said Monday during a hearing on the revised bill before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

"The committee substitute has gone a significant way of addressing those issues raised," he said, adding that the bill's goal of aiding families of first responders following unexpected deaths is unchanged.

"We hope this bill is actually never used. If this bill is never used after becoming law, I think that would be a good thing," Singleton said.

The bill was advanced by the Appropriations Committee by a 9-0 vote, clearing it for a possible floor vote by the full Assembly.

Companion legislation sponsored by Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, in the Legislature's upper house is still pending before the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.


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