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Mesothelioma- the Financial Costs to Society

By Alex G Melan

Mesothelioma- the Financial Costs to Society

Much has been written about asbestos related diseases such as Mesothelioma over the last couple of years. The focus has been on three main areas:

a) The unfortunate victims of mesothelioma such as former employees of asbestos mining companies who caught these diseases whilst in the course of their employment. We have seen the heart rendering images on TV of these people, all of them in their retirement years, gasping for air and suffering enormously.

b) Whether the asbestos mining companies knew that asbestos mining was a danger to human life.

c) The Multibillion dollar class actions filed by the victims against their former employers seeking compensation.

Two issues that have not been addressed are the financial costs to society of asbestos related diseases such as Mesothelioma cancer and who pays for these costs. Secondly, should asbestos mining companies be paying compensation not only to the sufferers of mesothelioma and other diseases but also to Society also?

There are two costs to society that can be identified. The first is the cost to the public health system. The second cost is the loss of tax revenue by governments due to Asbestos mining companies claiming a tax deduction for the compensation payments that are made to the victims.

In illustration of the costs to the public health system, the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia has stated that by 2020 there will be 13000 cases of mesothelioma and 40000 asbestos related lung cancer diseases, totaling 53000 people and this is only in Australia! This means that 53000 people will need to have constant medical attention for the next 15 years or so. The question therefore, who pays for the cost? The answer of course is the current taxpayer and the next generation of taxpayers.

In relation to tax revenue, governments are essentially missing out on tax revenue as the asbestos companies are claiming the compensation payment as a tax deduction. For illustrative purposes, assume that an asbestos mining company pays out $100m per year over five years to the victims. Also assume that the corporate tax rate is 30 per cent. Therefore over five years, a respective government is losing $150m in revenue. Essentially it means that the asbestos mining companies are sharing the costs with the taxpayer. They pay 70 per cent of the compensation payment and the taxpayer pays the remaining balance. Most people would view this as totally inequitable.

It can be seen that the Asbestos companies are only paying a part of the costs and not the full cost.

To rectify this, there are two possible solutions.

a) Respective Governments should also join class actions with Mesothelioma sufferers against the asbestos mining companies seeking compensation for medical and future medical costs. This would not be unprecedented as various State Governments of the United States sought compensation against the Tobacco Companies to pay for the medical costs of its citizens who needed medical attention because of the ill effects of smoking.

b) Governments deny a tax deduction for Mesothelioma compensation payments made by the asbestos mining companies.

Until either part a or part b happens, it is the taxpayer who will be unfairly burdened with the additional financial costs of Asbestos related diseases such as Mesothelioma.

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