Senator Keeps Focus on Asbestos Victims

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana will retire when his term ends in 2015 – but the Democratic senator won’t be leaving office without trying to button down federal assistance for asbestos victims from Libby.

Libby has paid an enormous toll in suffering as a consequence of hosting a now-closed vermiculite mining and milling operation owned and operated by W.R. Grace & Co. The mine’s vermiculite contained asbestos, a fibrous mineral linked to mesothelioma and other life-threatening diseases. In Libby, at least 400 people have died and 1,750 have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases, according to news sources.

Baucus recently brought Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to Libby to meet with asbestos victims and their families. As reported in the Missoulian, Tavenner also toured the town’s cemetery and visited the Centers for Asbestos Related Disease Clinic, which sees 40 new cases of asbestos-related disease per month.

Part of Baucus’ goal in bringing the Medicare chief to Libby is to secure additional Medicare benefits for asbestos victims who have moved from the area. These victims, who receive health care coverage under Medicare thanks to a provision Baucus wrote into the Affordable Care Act, are only covered if they live in certain Montana counties.

Baucus says bringing high-ranking Washington officials like Tavenner to Libby is the only way to keep the town’s asbestos victims and their needs top of mind.

“The U.S. government is so big that things get lost in the shuffle,” Baucus told the Missoulian. “You have to focus on it relentlessly. Libby is a small part of our state, a small part of our country, but it’s a big, big need.”