What the Congressional Recess Means for Mesothelioma Patients

The Capitol Building

Federal lawmakers are on recess until after the November elections.

That means Congress missed another opportunity to assist asbestos victims and those who want to see its use (and abuse) eliminated. It did little to help the fundraising efforts for mesothelioma, the primary disease caused by asbestos exposure.

On the other hand, legislators also left town without voting on a bill that would have helped defendants in asbestos lawsuits.

You can view it as a trade-off, but for people with mesothelioma it was not.

Asbestos Victim Compensation

Unlike recent years, asbestos victim compensation actually got some attention on the Hill this year. The last time lawmakers introduced a serious proposal for compensating asbestos victims was in 2006. That measure was known as the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution (FAIR) Act.

But the legislation introduced in Congress earlier this year really wasn’t about asbestos victims. It was a measure to help asbestos lawsuit defendants.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2012. The bill (H.R. 4369) would make information about asbestos bankruptcy trusts claims available to asbestos litigation defendants. As we’ve explained, asbestos defendants can already access that information through the litigation process.

Requiring asbestos bankruptcy trusts to release information about every trust claim is unnecessary. It’s also a waste of trust resources that could be used to process asbestos victims’ claims.

H.R. 4369 was barely voted out of the Judiciary Committee, and the House never voted on it. The Senate version of the bill (S.3076) never made it to a committee vote.

In this case, it’s probably best that Congress hasn’t acted.

Research Funding

But Congress’s failure to ensure funding for research is a different story.

Something called sequestration looms over Washington right now. Sequestration occurs if Congress passes bills appropriating money to programs, but the amount of money appropriated in those bills is more than the limits set under the annual budget.

I’m oversimplifying here, but sequestration means that automatic budgets cuts have to be made and programs don’t get funded. Right now, Washington is looking at automatic cuts occurring on Jan. 2.

Some federal programs are protected from these cuts. But according to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, sequestration will trigger a budget cut of over $2.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This reportedly means that two grants for research will be cut in 2013.

Universities and other researchers rely on grants like these to continue breakthroughs in treatment.

On Tuesday, President Obama signed a continuing resolution funding most government agencies, including NIH, through March 2013. But the resolution won’t prevent a government shutdown. Congress must act to avoid the cuts that currently threaten mesothelioma research.

If you want to join the effort urging Congress to avoid cuts to research funding, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation has more information.

If you’re interested in reaching out to your lawmaker about the issues that affect patients, check out these tips from our Medical Outreach Director, Kaylen Jackson.

Karen Marshall has more than 17 years of legal experience and is an attorney with The Peterson Firm. She has been contributing to The Mesothelioma Center since 2011 and writes about asbestos-related legal issues and blogs for Asbestos.com.

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