Injured fisherman can now receive up to 10 thousand dollars to cover emergency healthcare costs through the state’s Alaska Fishermen's Fund.
The legislature boosted the maximum benefit in 2010 from $2,50o to $10,000. Velma Thomas with the Alaska Department of Labor says many fishermen have not learned about the changes in the program or how to take advantage of it.
"It's an emergency medical fund. It pays after private insurance has been billed or public assistance was provided. To qualify for benefits, you must have a valid commercial fishing license at the time of the injury. The injury must be directly connected to your commercial fishing activity and have occurred in Alaska or Alaskan waters," said Thomas.
The program paid out 866 thousand dollars last year to fishermen. The program so far in FY-2013 has received 475 claims, including 100 out of the district that includes Bristol Bay.
"We see quite a few back injuries: strains, pulls, hernias. As long as it's commercial fishing related," said Thomas.
The Legislature’s decision to raise the maximum done in part to cover rapidly rising health care costs.
"Especially if you're isolated, the medevac, you could look at $10,000 to $20,000 just to get to a provider. For other fractures, you could look at $25,000. It's pretty costly," said Thomas.
As fishermen prepare for the busy 2013 season, Thomas recommends getting licenses quickly to ensure eligibility.
"Before a captain hires crew, they should ensure as they're hired, they should get the license as soon as possible," said Thomas.
The Fishermen's Fund predates statehood. It’s been paying for emergency fishing injuries since 1951.