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Rep. Maloney on Canceled National 9/11 Health Care Plan

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2008 6:48 pm    Post subject: Rep. Maloney on Canceled National 9/11 Health Care Plan
From Wed Jan 23, 2008 3:00 am to Sat Jan 26, 2008 2:59 am (included)
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For Immediate Release: January 22, 2008

Contact: Joe Soldevere, (212) 860-0606

Rep. Maloney on Canceled National 9/11 Health Care Plan

& How Decision May Affect NYC-Area Clinics

New York, NY Today, the House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement convened a hearing in lower Manhattan to examine why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services abruptly halted its plans to provide health care for thousands of 9/11 responders and others from outside the tri-state area who are sick or injured as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Witnesses at the hearing also discussed how this decision may affect the six New York City-area 9/11 health clinics.

Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens) submitted the following statement for the hearing record:

Good morning. As many of you may know, more than 70,000 Americans have signed up for the World Trade Center Health Registry because they are concerned about their exposure to the toxic aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. About 60,000 of those registered hail from the tri-state area and most have access to health clinics operated by the local Centers of Excellence, including Mt. Sinai, the FDNY and others.

What many of you may not know, however, is that the other 10,000 registrants live outside the New York area, and these Americans -who come from every state in our union, even Alaska and Hawaii, and, perhaps even more amazing, 431 of 435 Congressional districts nationwide- do not have access to federally-funded care in their own communities.

Today we are joined by three responders who live outside the New York metropolitan area; these three heroes were all at Ground Zero, they all have health effects from their service and they all need the help that a national program would provide.

Chief Fraone from Menlo Park, California, who led urban search and rescue teams from California at Ground Zero, will tell his story and talk about the difficulties he has had in getting help, treatment or even just information.

Joseph Libretti, an iron worker from Pennsylvania, who spent the first months responding to the attack and is now seriously ill from his exposure to toxins at Ground Zero, can no longer work and has to travel 100 miles one way to see his doctor here in New York.

We will also hear from Kevin Mount, a former heavy equipment operator from the NYC Department of Sanitation who worked on the pile and had to retire to Florida on disability due to injuries caused by his service, and who must now come back to New York several times a year to see his Mt. Sinai doctor.

These responders represent thousands of rescue and recovery workers who came from around the country to help New York and are now in need of help from the federal government.

However, just before Christmas, the Bush Administration abruptly terminated a Request for Contracts to set up the World Trade Center Business Processing Center, which would have been the hub of a national program to provide care for Americans who have 9/11-related illnesses but do not live in the New York metro area.

The Administration's abrupt and ill-advised decision essentially ended the hope that sick 9/11 responders from around the country could any time soon get long-term, federally-funded medical monitoring and treatment without traveling to the New York area.

The Request for Contracts for the national program was first put out in October, and the final December 19th deadline to submit contracts was fast approaching when the Administration suddenly decided to pull the plug.

Senators Clinton and Schumer and Congressmen Nadler and Fossella and I sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt looking for answers about this abrupt change of course. The letter is available at the sign in desk.

The reasons given at the time just did not make any sense.

First, they said there wasn't enough money to fund the contract. Now, if this were true, it would mean that the Department failed to ask for enough money to cover its own programs, which would certainly be odd, but in fact it was not true that there wasn't enough money, since the proposed contract was flexible, and since, within days, Congress appropriated another $108 million for 9/11 health care, which, added to the $50 million we approved earlier in the year, would have been more than enough to fund the contract.

They also said there was bidders' confusion, but in fact one potential bidder has publicly stated that not only were they not confused, but they were ready and willing to submit a bid.

We wanted to know why the decision was made, who made it, and what alternative plans the Administration may have in store if they don't reinstate their request for contracts. We asked for an answer before Friday, December 21st. We didn't get one. It is now January 22nd

and we still do not have an answer.

As Chairman Towns stated, he asked Secretary Leavitt to testify today, or at least send someone to do so, but apparently neither he nor any of the thousands of people who work for him could spare a few hours of their time for the heroes of 9/11. It seems that while thousands came to New York with no notice in its hour of need, no one at HHS could get on the shuttle or the train and be here today with two weeks notice.

The Secretary's silence on this matter is part of a pattern that would almost be funny if the stakes weren't so serious.

So today we have an empty chair instead of getting the answers we need. Dr. Melius will have to explain this situation to us since the Government decided not to show.

As I mentioned earlier, the consequences of the Administration's decision will be felt not just in states like California and Florida, but right here in New York, as well.

While this committee deals with government contracting and grants all the time I think I need to explain in greater detail the problem that we may be facing on the local level because of the administration's decision.

Under normal government grant-making procedures, contracts and grants are drafted with a limit on how much can be spent and that is what was done with the federal grants made to the Centers of Excellence, which provide medical monitoring and treatment to 9/11 responders in the New York area.

Without the business center that NIOSH was attempting to set up, (or, rather, that the administration stopped,) clinics like Mt. Sinai that are operating under current grant arrangements will need their spending limits modified in the next few months or they will not be able to operate.

Once these spending caps are reached, federal funds that we struggled to get, basically over the administrations' objections, will have to sit in a bank account, rather than be used to provide care to 9/11 responders and others.

Now, had the proposed business center gone through as planned, the current grant arrangements and spending caps for the local Centers of Excellence would have been superseded by a new arrangement to pay costs through the national business center and no further procedures would have been necessary.

But when the Administration pulled the plug on the national program, it also pulled the plug on the way the local programs were going to operate.

My concern now is that this administration, which never supported the clinics, or the effort to medically monitor and treat 9/11 responders, will let them shut down.

While the administration chose not to be here to answer our questions I am grateful that our witnesses today were able to be here and testify.

Thank you, Chief Fraone, Mr. Libretti and Mr. Mount for your service, and thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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