Perhaps if Americans had longer memories, it would be easier to change the current political and social system with which some 70% of all Americans are unhappy, according to most polls. What does this have to do with asbestos? After all, with Senator Murray’s “Ban Asbestos in America” bill coming to the Senate floor this fall, there is progress being made…right? Hopefully, this is true. However, as we go into another election, it behooves us to review the records of legislators on important issues. For asbestos victims, two of the most important issues are health care and the right to recover damages, both of which have been under relentless attack, particularly over the past six years. In 2005, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) put forth a bill. Ironically named the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution (F.A.I.R.) Act. The F.A.I.R. Act would have in essence eliminated the right of asbestos victims to sue altogether. Instead, such victims would have been paid out of a trust fund into which corporations would pay a certain amount. The F.A.I.R. Act would also have absolved corporations of all liability. Meanwhile, the Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis (OLPA) determined that under such a law, asbestos victims would receive only a fraction of their deserved compensation. Although narrowly defeated during the 109th Congress, Specter has vowed to continue pushing for such legislation during the current session.
Even more egregious, however was the Frist/Hatch Amendment. This would have provided even less compensation for asbestos victims. Corporations would have paid only $5 billion a year into this fund (asbestos costs at that time were estimated at as much as $58 billion). Under the terms of the amendment, even victims who had claims already settled and approved would have had to wait over a decade for compensation. Why would legislators who are supposed to be protecting and serving their constituents consider such laws? It is not generally known that the family of Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) is extremely wealthy. The Frist family owns and runs the Hospital Corporation of America, which has generated billions in profits. Ten years ago, the HCA was investigated by the Federal Government for Medicare fraud, and wound up paying $1.7 billion in fines. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has repeatedly voted to protect the interests of large pharmaceutical corporations. He voted against increasing the Medicaid rebate for the production of generic drugs, and voted against negotiating bulk purchases for Medicare prescription drugs, both of which resulted in larger profits for corporations and higher prices for Americans. Many of these issues could be resolved by a non-profit, tax-payer funded National Health Care system. However, the only legislator who has come up with a workable, practical solution is presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who is effectively being silenced by the corporate media.