Rogers' bill named for Callahan would give terminally ill immediate benefits
by Laura Tutor
Features Editor
Jun 16, 2009 | 3099 views |  0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks) hugs Linda Callahan Monday morning at Regional Medical Center in Anniston.  Rogers is going to introduce a bill, The Kenny Callahan Bill, to get disability payments to start immediately when a terminal cancer diagnosis has been made.  Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks) hugs Linda Callahan Monday morning at Regional Medical Center in Anniston. Rogers is going to introduce a bill, The Kenny Callahan Bill, to get disability payments to start immediately when a terminal cancer diagnosis has been made. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
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U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers on Monday introduced the Kenny Callahan Act, a bill that would allow anyone diagnosed with a terminal illness to immediately receive disability benefits from Social Security or Medicare.

The bill is named for Kenny Callahan, the cameraman for TV-24 who died in January, 32 days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Upon his terminal diagnosis in December, Callahan was told it would be five months before he could apply for Social Security disability.

Currently, there is a five-month waiting period to apply for Social Security disability and a 24-month period for Medicare.

"As a practical matter, that is not an option," said Rogers, a Republican from Saks who represents the 3rd Congressional District, when he announced the bill at Regional Medical Center on Monday morning. "It's morally wrong."

Rogers said he understands the frustration families feel when they hear of those waiting periods. Terminally ill patients often don't have that much time, and the waiting periods merely add to the burden. About 12 years ago, Rogers' mother-in-law died 60 days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

The bill would affect some 50,000 to 75,000 Americans a year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO estimates that it would cost between $50 billion and $70 billion over the course of 10 years, an amount Rogers said can be offset by other savings in the nation's health care system.

For instance, Rogers said the Senate Finance Committee announced on April 29 that it had discovered money that could offset the cost of his bill.

"Since the Senate has already identified that, that is what I want to use to pay for this," Rogers said.

He has nine co-sponsors for the bill: four fellow Republicans and five Democrats, including all of the Alabama legislative delegation. Co-sponsors not from Alabama are Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa.; Rep. Donna Christensen, D-V.I.; Rep. Christopher Carney, D-Pa.; and Rep. Christopher Smith, R- N.J.

"I'm pleased the Democrats have been so helpful," Rogers said, adding that he's willing to let a Democrat take the lead on the legislation if it will improve its chances of passing. "I just don't see, morally, how you can be opposed to this."

Callahan's widow, Linda, was at the hospital for the announcement. She said her husband's illness shows how quickly a family's fortunes can spin out of control.

"We had three incomes," she said, explaining that her husband worked one full-time job and had a freelance photography business, as well. That money went away after he became too ill to work, and left only her job, which was far less than what they'd been living on. "If it wasn't for the help of some real good friends, I don't know if I would have a home."

Rogers said he likes the bill's chances of passing. It is separate, and will be pushed separately, from any health care reform discussions that are under way now in Washington, he said.

As far as that debate goes, Rogers said he hopes to see specific, concrete proposals on health care reform this week.

"I think the House Democrats will be more ambitious than the Senate," he said. "I think the president's going to wait to see what comes down from both sides and see where he's going to land. He's a pretty smart guy."

Rogers was guarded when he assessed the Callahan Act's chances of passing this session. He said he learned a long time ago in Alabama's Legislature that legislation takes time, and it may take a few attempts to get Callahan's bill passed.

"This is really important, and I'm going to keep after it."

The bill would do more than replace a family's income, Rogers said. It would keep local hospitals from having to absorb expenses that those families simply cannot afford.

"There are a lot of community hospitals now that don't offer some things, simply because they cannot take on those costs," said David McCormack, RMC's chief executive officer. "And for the families, it's got to be so overwhelming. You wonder how they get through it."
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