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LibbyMt.com > News > March 2006 > Leavitt and Baucus hear Libby concerns

Libby Asbestos Meeting. Photo by Maggie Craig, LibbyMT.com.
Libby Asbestos Meeting
Leavitt and Baucus hear Libby concerns
by Maggie Craig
March 12, 2006

The Ponderosa Room at Libby City Hall was packed Friday afternoon for the town hall meeting with Montana Senator Max Baucus and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. Secretary Leavitt was invited to Libby by Baucus to hear first-hand the continuing concerns regarding health care for Libby residents with asbestos-related diseases, a result of W.R. Grace Company’s decades of vermiculite mining in the area. Baucus and Leavitt visited the CARD (Center for Asbestos Related Disease) clinic prior to the public meeting. Baucus is hoping to raise awareness with Leavitt and fellow congressional members about the severity of disease afflicting Libby residents.

Senator Baucus opened the meeting by saying that Secretary Leavitt has only come to Libby – nowhere else in the country – to hear about asbestos issues. After introducing the secretary, the meeting was quickly turned over to the audience, with a number of people stepping up to the microphone to voice concerns and ask questions. Among them:

The FAIR legislation (Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act) and the 60 signatures needed to resurrect it in Congress, support for LATAG (Libby Area Technical Assistance Group), the need for a stable community medical trust fund and a community health care program, the needs of the hospital in diagnosing and caring for residents afflicted with asbestos-related diseases, the need for research funding, the battles with the Grace-sponsored health plan, the concern for people who no longer live in Libby and can’t be tested regularly, and the city’s and county’s roles in the legal and financial implications of Libby’s situation with regard to Grace’s bankruptcy proceedings.

To end the meeting, Senator Baucus likened Libby’s asbestos situation with that of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, except Libby lacks the media-fueled urgency and coverage that a deadly natural disaster garners. He pledged to continue his efforts on behalf of Libby residents; to work on getting a health care trust fund, to get asbestos legislation passed that protects and compensates Libby victims, to address and fund research needs and overall, to secure some measure of justice for Libby.

For Secretary Leavitt’s part, he said he feels the affection and concern that Libby residents feel for each other. He noted the high level of expertise available at the CARD clinic with Drs. Black and Whitehouse. He was impressed with Libby’s community spirit in creating the CARD clinic. He said “the rest of the world” doesn’t understand what’s happening in Libby, and the scientific and medical communities need to catch up; to study and understand asbestos-related diseases and how they manifest themselves differently in Libby than anywhere else. The Centers for Disease Control will become involved. The labyrinth of insurances needs to be simplified, and the Social Security Administration needs to understand the issues better so Libby residents can qualify for disability compensation.

As for what can be done "today," Leavitt invited all eligible seniors aged 65+, of which there are still 100,000 Montanans yet to take advantage of it, to sign up for the Medicare prescription drug program available to them.

That concluded the meeting, as time was short for both of them, but there was no doubt that Senator Baucus will diligently continue his advocacy for Libby’s victims, and Secretary Leavitt seemed genuinely affected by the plight of the community, saying he wants to help. The visit was successful.

Story and photo by Maggie Craig

LibbyMt.com > News > March 2006 > Leavitt and Baucus hear Libby concerns
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