Family medical coverage for the spouses and children of New Jersey first responders who die within 24 hours of ending a shift would be extended six months, under a measure advanced by a state Assembly panel on Monday.
The death of Cinnaminson Fire Lt. Chris Hunter prompted lawmakers to act: Because he died just hours after his last shift ended -- and not while on the job -- his family wasn't eligible for a continuation of medical coverage.
Under current New Jersey law, family members can be dropped from the state insurance plan, and face unexpected health expenses while mourning, if a first responder’s death didn't occur in the line of duty.
The new measure allows the dependents of certain recently-deceased public safety employees to apply to the state treasurer for a reimbursement of the cost of the first six months of COBRA continuation coverage.
It would apply to the spouse and unmarried children of state and local public safety employees, including state and local police, full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters, state and county correctional officers and members of first aid, emergency, ambulance or rescue squads, if the public safety employee died while on duty, or within 24 hours of going off duty.
The COBRA reimbursement is only available so long as the dependents were covered by health insurance through the State Health Benefits Program, or otherwise through the public safety employee’s employer, until the time of death.
“Our public safety officers devote themselves to the safety of others," said state rep. Marlene Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic), one of the measure's co-sponsors. "This bill will provide peace of mind to them and to their loved ones by eliminating the fear of a sudden cancellation of medical coverage."
The bill advanced by the Assembly Labor Committee "is the right thing to do for the families of public safety workers who have sacrificed so much,” added state Rep. Shavonda Sumter (D-Passaic/Bergen), another co-sponsor. “This is much-deserved security during their time of need.”
“We must always be looking for ways to help the families of those lost,” said another co-sponsor, state Rep. Benjie Wimberly (D-Passaic/Bergen). “This is the appropriate response.”
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