Health care for 9/11 responders [updated]

    Congress is poised to vote on a bill that would provide long term health care for law enforcement and emergency workers who responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center.

    Congress is expected to vote this week on a bill that would guarantee health care for workers who rushed to help at the World Trade Center on September 11th. The bill would also provide funding to researchers who have been studying the long-term health impacts of 9/11.
    (Photo: Flickr/Alejandra H. Covarrubias)

    Since 2003 Iris Udasin has been treating and tracking the health of those who rushed in to help at ground zero. She is the lead investigator in New Jersey for the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. The exposure to toxic materials was extreme, she says, and many people lacked proper respiratory protection.

    Udasin: Somewhere around 2/3 of our patients have had respiratory issues and many of these are persistent even nine years after the exposure.

    Those include asthma and sinus problems bad enough to warrant surgery.

    The 9/11 Health and Compensation Act would make sure Udasin’s patients could continue seeing her, regardless of their insurance status. It would also provide resources for her clinic at Rutgers to continue collecting data on long term effects.

    Udasin: If the bill is passed it pays for salaries of doctors and nurses and tests we need to have done. So yes, if the bill passes then we would be in good shape and have a long term commitment to take care of our patients.

    Udasin says there are a number of other conditions they are tracking, but haven’t been able to determine yet whether exposure at ground zero was the cause. The Health and Compensation Act will cost about $5 billion dollars over the next decade.

    Update 7/30/2010: A health care guarantee for 9/11 responders failed to pass the House Thursday. The 9/11 Health and Compensation Act would have provided health care to workers who aided after the bombing of the World Trade Center and resources for monitoring and research on the health effects of exposure to ground zero. Though the bill received a majority support, it needed two thirds of the House to vote in favor of it to pass.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.