Posted: Aug 21, 2013 5:18 PM by Laura Wilson - MTN News
Senator Max Baucus plans on retiring at the end of next year, but he wants to make sure that the victims of one of the most well-known asbestos-related tragedies in history are taken care of long after he's left the Senate.
"Libby creates an impression-a big impression-and it's basically because of the scale. There are just so many people here who have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases," Baucus said.
2,800 people living in Libby and surrounding areas have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. Senator Max Baucus wants to ensure all of those victims, along with any other subsequent people affected by the disease, continue to receive proper health care once he retires from office next year.
On Wednesday, he brought U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to the Libby cemetery, to meet family and friends of those lost to asbestos related poisoning.
"It is a good way for the senator to hand off the torch, because we are in the midst of looking at benefits for these individuals. I won't forget them. I'll remember these faces and stories, and I'll take that back with me," Tavenner said.
Daughter of asbestos victims and Libby resident Gayla Benefield said, "Les Skramstad and I were the whistleblowers on the origination of bringing the EPA to Libby. Max [Baucus], at that time, had promised he would do everything in his power to help."
Senator Baucus has worked to find justice for Libby residents over the last decade-including pushing for a declaration of public health emergency in Libby, which qualified victims of asbestos exposure in Lincoln County for Medicare benefits. But, he said, there's still more work to be done in the future.
"My takeaway today is, do we need to expand the program beyond Libby to folks who may have lived here, but now live outside the area? And the second thing is the research and screening work needs to continue.," Tavenner said.
"The early detection of mesothelioma-I think that is number one. Possibly-if they can detect it early enough, it will treatable. Right now, it's totally incurable. As my sister and I said, we'll have a hard time breaking somebody else in, but we'll be able to do it," Benefield said.