EPA Failed Us, Tens of Thousands Still Sick from 9/11

In the days following the 9/11 attacks, the Bush Administration, through the EPA, falsely assured us that the air in Manhattan was safe to breathe. This gave a green light to workers, residents, and students to return to potentially dangerous and unhealthful conditions, and provided thousands of first responders, volunteers with false confidence as they worked long hours on the pile, often without the proper protective equipment. The EPA betrayed its mandate to protect public health and the environment, and now we have to deal with the consequences.

There is still much we don't know about the short- and long-term health effects of the dust, debris, and fumes that were released when the World Trade Center was destroyed. But we do know that tens of thousands of people are now or will be sick, and every day more people develop symptoms. Those most affected by the terrorist attacks deserve answers, deserve a proper clean-up, and most importantly, deserve appropriate medical care.

The federal government has yet to come up with a plan to monitor and treat those who were affected on 9/11. That is why I have introduced H.R. 6046, The 9/11 Comprehensive Health Benefits Act. My bill provides people with illnesses related to 9/11 access to comprehensive health benefits under the Medicare program - a notion supported by the New York Times. It is a sensible, easy-to-access, and cost-effective way to provide medical treatment to affected individuals.

This means that 9/11 victims - including first responders, those caught in the dust cloud, as well as those who have resided or worked in a building that was exposed to contaminants from the collapse of the World Trade Center - will be able to use the long established Medicare framework to see their own doctors, or practically any specialist they feel necessary, without having to navigate a bureaucracy designed to contest their claims.

Since there is no time limit on Medicare, beneficiaries will be able to receive permanent treatment should their symptoms persist, or worse, should new ones emerge. Since Medicare has low overhead and administrative costs, and annually accepts 2 million new participants, the program can easily absorb this new population. And the Medicare benefit is the same in all 50 states, so first responders who came to ground zero from around the country all get the same care.

I hope that the President does the right thing by including money in his FY 2008 Budget. As for devising a plan to care for the medical treatment and monitoring for the heroes of 9/11: given the shortcomings in his plan for Iraq, I suggest he look to my bill as a guide.

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