Tag Archives: BP

BP to Pay Spill-Related Health Claims

Gulf Coast residents who may have been made sick — or who may become sick in the future — as a result of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill may now be able to make a claim against BP. The oil giant announced on March 2 that it had reached an agreement in principle for a settlement with the attorneys representing the thousands of plaintiffs in the massive case.

Overall, the company says it will make almost $8 billion available — about $5 billion will go toward health claims.

Photo by Alicia Ault/IMNG Medical Media

In a sense, it is opportunity No. 2 for the fisherman, shrimpers, restaurant and hotel owners, and hundreds of thousands of others who make their living or just live in the areas affected by the spill. BP had already set aside $20 billion — in June 2010 — to pay mostly economic damage and other direct economic claims.

At that time, there was an outcry about the lack of any dedicated funds to cover mental health issues or physical illnesses that might arise out of the oil spill. I blogged about that here, in an earlier post.

In the almost 2 years since the disaster, BP says it has paid “approximately $6.1 billion to resolve more than 220,000 claims from individuals and businesses” through the trust fund, known as the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. It has been administered by Kenneth Feinberg, not coincidentally, the man who also oversaw the claims process for the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

According to lengthy article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on the proposed settlement, Mr. Heisenberg is now stepping down and another special master will take over administration of the Trust Fund.

The proposed settlement — which will come out of the $20 billion Trust Fund — has one agreement to address economic loss claims and another for medical claims. For those who have a qualifying medical claim, there is essentially a 21-year statute of limitations. It’s likely taking into account that some conditions — such as cancer — may take that long to show up in clean-up workers or others exposed to either the oil or the chemicals used to mitigate the disaster.

BP is also making $105 million available “to improve the availability, scope, and quality of health care in Gulf communities.” The money will cover an expansion of primary care, mental health services, and access to environmental health specialists, according to the company.

If the agreement in principle goes into effect, the plaintiffs who eventually get paid will release BP from future liability claims.

Alicia Ault

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Filed under Epidemiology, Family Medicine, Health Policy, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Litigation, Psychiatry

BP’s $20 Billion: Not A Single Dollar For Health

The Washington Post reported today that an Alabama fisherman working on the BP oil spill clean-up committed suicide on Wednesday, making him perhaps the first post-accident casualty, and reflecting what may end up being a deeper and longer-lasting impact on the Gulf States’ psyche than Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

That region, particularly the New Orleans metropolitan area and the Mississippi coast, has still never truly recovered from those storms, emotionally, physically or financially. There is very little capacity to cope with a new disaster, especially one that appears to have no end in sight.

Via Flickr Creative Commons user Infrogmation

And yet when the White House announced last week that it had secured a promise from BP to set aside $20 billion in assets to mitigate the costs of the spill, not a single penny of that was earmarked for physical or mental health services. Importantly, it will pay claims for economic distress and damage, and will help rebuild the seafood, oil and gas services, and tourism industries.

But what about the health of those expected to be a part of that rebuilding? Yesterday and today I spoke with physicians who are scrambling to respond to what appears to be a slowly unfolding mental health crisis.

Dr. Chuck Coleman, a psychiatrist who helps run the St. Bernard Project’s Center for Wellness and Mental Health, said that there has been an increase in symptoms for those who were already anxious or depressed, and a noticeable increase in substance abuse and domestic violence. The Project is turning to the wives of the men who can no longer fish, shrimp or dredge for oysters, using them to conduct outreach and make referrals.

But, as Dr. Coleman notes, this also is not a group of people who are comfortable seeking mental health services. That was echoed by Dr. Ben Springgate, a Tulane University internist, who along with colleagues, has been conducting training sessions for organizations such as the Mary Queen of Viet Nam Community Development Corp.  The idea is for each community to reach out to its own in a culturally appropriate fashion — something that has been a goal nationally for health care providers.

Dr. Springgate noted that while it was well and good for state and federal officials to expect BP to pay for all costs related to the spill, the reality is that health care is being overlooked. He claimed that the state of Louisiana had asked BP for a fund to monitor long term health effects, and for a $10 million disbursement to cover short term mental health needs.  The company refused both, he said.

Hopefully, it won’t take the collapse of a community — or multiple suicides — to bring quick resources to the region.

— Alicia Ault (on Twitter @aliciaault)

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Filed under Family Medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Primary care, Psychiatry