A bill working its way through Congress threatens to make it harder for you to pay for mesothelioma treatment and related expenses.
At the same time, the bill may make it easier for identity thieves to access your private personal information, according to consumer watchdogs.
The bill is the Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act. It goes by the acronym FACT and is bill number H.R. 526.
The FACT Act has been stitched together with a second bill, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, H.R. 1927.
The joined-at-the-legislative-hip bills were approved in the House of Representatives in early January by a vote of 211 to 188, with one congressman voting “present.”
The bill is now headed to the U.S. Senate for debate and possible amendment ahead of a floor vote.
Bill Forces Patients to Divulge Private Data
If the Senate approves FACT and it goes on to become law, you will be compelled to disclose personal details when you apply for compensation from an asbestos trust.
An asbestos trust is a mechanism set up by a company with a legal obligation to compensate large numbers of people who it exposed to asbestos. The trust pays these victims’ current and future injury claims.
This approach lets asbestos-exposure victims and mesothelioma patients avoid having to sue the company for compensation. It also helps the company avoiding being financially wiped out by all the claims it will eventually end up paying.
A key piece of the FACT Act is its requirement that asbestos trust claimants reveal private data about such matters as how and when they were exposed to asbestos. This data would become part of a report the trust must prepare and make available to the public.
Opponents of the measure say this will cause two things to happen. One, it will increase the time it takes for claims to be processed. In turn, that will slow down your receipt of compensation.
“Asbestos victims go bankrupt because of the disease they fight. Why would we want to delay compensation?” said one asbestos victims’ advocate quoted by Bloomberg News.
FACT Aims to Reduce Fraud
The second thing advocates fear will happen if FACT becomes law is it will increase the risk of identity theft. Thieves, they contend, will be able to abscond with a victim’s personal information simply by requesting it.
The thieves will then use that information to apply for credit cards and loans in asbestos-exposure victims’ names. When the bills come due, it will be the victims who are stuck having to pay them.
Identity thieves might also use the private information they acquire to take over victims’ bank accounts and clean them out.
However, FACT proponents argue that the bill is aimed at preventing fraud, not encouraging it.
According to Bloomberg News, asbestos trusts run a constant risk of being hit with phony claims and claims for wildly inflated amounts. Proponents say that the requirement for public disclosure of private data will discourage fraud. It’s not clear how.
This is the third time FACT has been peddled in Congress. It was voted on and approved in the House of Representatives in 2013 and again in 2014. But the Senate kept allowing it to die.
Some observers indicate that attaching FACT to the backside of the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act is a way to camouflage it, so that FACT can slip through unnoticed this time around in the Senate.
The two bills make for an odd pairing, since they are unrelated. While FACT deals with asbestos trusts, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act seeks to limit the plaintiffs in class actions to only those with very similar injuries.
Senate watchers believe the combined Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act-FACT package will run out of gas and stall. One group gives it less than a one-in-five chance of clearing the Senate.