As health officials in Japan scramble to provide care for those
affected by the recent nuclear power plant accident, some Americans
are wondering how their own individual and group health insurance
plans would handle claims resulting from a similar incident
Rochelle Becker, executive director of the nonprofit Alliance
for Nuclear Responsibility, says there is no danger of hospitals
and other caregivers failing to honor
health insurance coverage
for illnesses related to a nuclear accident. "You can always get
treatment," she says.
Michael S. Gossman, president of the American Association of
Physicists in Medicine for the Ohio River Valley region, says the
federal government would make sure that insurance companies cover
health care costs for radiation victims. Later on, those same
insurers might seek reimbursement from those who caused the release
The role of hospitals and health insurance
"The major hospitals will be the centers to handle patients that
have radiation problems," Gossman says. Those hospitals will treat
victims first and sort out insurance issues later.
policies generally would cover the treatment of injuries resulting
from an unexpected discharge of radiation, says Susan Pisano, of
America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group
representing nearly 1,300 member companies. If a special fund were
later created to compensate individuals for damages resulting from
a nuclear accident, health insurers would apply to offset their own
"They would go after those funds, but in the meantime you will
get your care covered," Pisano says. "The typical approach would be
for the care to be covered at the time it is delivered."
The Price-Anderson Act
A program to compensate people for damages and injuries caused
by a commercial nuclear accident in the United States exists under
the Price-Anderson Act.
Passed in 1957, it ensures that funds are available to satisfy
liability claims. It also limits the liability of companies
involved in certain nuclear activities, such as power plant
operators. There is almost $13 billion in liability insurance
protection available to be used in the event of a commercial
nuclear accident, the Insurance Information Institute reports.
Becker says nothing in the act limits health care. Health
coverage for accident victims "is not a Price-Anderson issue," she
How much would it cost?
No one has been able to get their arms around the potential
health care costs for a nuclear accident. Becker says there are no
good figures available for how much medical care might cost
following a discharge of radiation in a heavily populated part of
the United States.
Besides the current crisis in Japan, the best example of such an
occurrence is the 1986 accident the
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
, in the former Soviet Union. Ira Helfand, a medical doctor in
Massachusetts who is past president of Physicians for Social
Responsibility, says the officials there downplayed the seriousness
of the accident and did not mount a serious effort to tally the
true medical costs. In 2006, a Greenpeace study found that the
accident had the potential to cause more than a quarter of a
million cancer cases and nearly 100,000 fatal cancers.