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Senate Passes Health Care Program for 9-11 First Responders

4 years ago
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On the frenzied final day of session for the 111th Congress, the Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday authorizing a new federally sponsored health benefits program for first responders who participated in rescue and recovery efforts following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Later in the day, the House quickly passed the measure on a vote of 206 to 60 and sent it to President Obama for his signature.

In the nine years since the attacks, hundreds of rescue workers who responded to Ground Zero have become ill or even died from serious respiratory problems. Health professionals have testified to Congress that the illnesses are related to the toxic dust that hovered over the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed in lower Manhattan.

A similar bill has passed in the House in September, but it was blocked in the Senate for months by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and others who argued that the program would worsen the federal deficit and could be vulnerable to fraud and abuse.

"Every member of this chamber, Republicans and Democrats, want to do what's right for the first responders who may have been injured after 9-11," DeMint said Wednesday. "But we owe it to the American people to be accountable to how we spend money. Certainly it's worth a few weeks of committee hearings and understanding exactly how to spend taxpayer money effectively."

But Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), one of the bill's sponsors along Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), said the bill had not been rushed, as Republicans like DeMint said, and added that the bill would require no taxpayer money.

"Let me assure you, we have been working on this bill for nine years," she said. "There have been 22 hearings on this bill, 21 in the House and one in the Senate . . . And unlike so many pieces of legislation in Washington, this bill is fully paid for."

Gillibrand and Schumer mounted an aggressive effort in the last 48 hours to get Coburn's support. They trimmed the overall cost of the bill from $7.4 billion to $4.2 billion and changed the funding mechanism approved by the House from closing tax loopholes, which does not generate revenue, to creating a 2-percent excise fee on foreign companies receiving U.S. government contracts that will pay for nearly all of the program.

They also shortened the length of the authorization from eight years to five and agreed to changes in the bill related to attorneys' fees and worker benefits that Coburn said could have opened the program up to fraud and abuse.

"I'm pleased the sponsors of this bill agreed to lower costs dramatically, offset the bill, sunset key provisions and take steps to prevent fraud," Coburn said in a statement after he reached the deal with the New York senators. "Every American recognizes the heroism of the 9-11 first responders, but it is not compassionate to help one group while robbing future generations of opportunity."

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Im a self employed contractor with my own health care. These responders already have health care alot better than I can get.I CANT see them getting any more money FOR DOING THEIR JOB.They took their jobs knowing the risks involved.It is a waste of taxpayers money.I know its tragic what happened but if you help these people you need to help all others killed or dying in all other civil service jobs.Also they need to help military men, women and vets alot more.

January 02 2011 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What I find hard to fathom is that there is no mention anywhere in the media (or anywhere else in the government)that nearly 1000 first responders have already died and that thousands are sick.Why is this being not being reported.

December 23 2010 at 10:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You people are kidding right? Why do these guys need aid.. You don't know? Alot of these guys are dying or have died because of the toxic things that were in the air down in Manhattan after 9/11, they were breathing in crap that the EPA said was fine..

You want to sit here and talk about why they need this.. God research sometime.. Not everything is in the MSN...

December 23 2010 at 4:09 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This bill should have been a given, with no debate.....Several post on here about how we are going to fund it.....What im wodering is why the repub even held it up and even made them compromise the bill.....which they dropped to 4 some billion..instead of 6 or 7.....And the repubs are worried about paying for this a joke?....The repubs just added another trillion to the debt in taxes cuts that we dont know how is going to be paid, and there worried about this drop in the bucket of 4 as the article states, there adding a 2 percent fee to foreign companies....Not taxpayers money....Im repub, (indepe after this lets give a little credit where its due...The dems couldnt have done it any better...And they got something, which beat nothing....Nothing, as some repub wanted would have been a total slap in the face of these people...The next tradedy, maybe we wont be surprised if no one helps our fellow man...And people quit be so brainwashed and close minded to what your party says or what the media says......Due your due-del and read up on things and find some facts for yourselfs.....You might find out your party is no better than the other one...We can just go back to bush's yrs in office (and farther back if you wish), and learn much of what didnt happen, and who didnt step forward, and the ones who did....Open your minds...And quit being so party struck.....

December 23 2010 at 2:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

forgive me, i know this will not be a popular response, but the first responders to 911 were employed. they made out an application for the job and while i know this was an extreme event....when you fill out the app. you sign on for everything life has to throw at you. the nyfd and the nypd people all filled out the app. they are getting paid and they ALL have health coverage. so why is there now SPECIAL health coverage being paid for by the rest of the u.s. citizens? first responders already have health coverage. what about the 1/4 of the rest of america that goes to work everyday in uncertain circumstances that have NO health coverage because the moron people have voted down national health coverage? what about all those people that are not covered with anything, but were giving additional SPECIAL health coverage to people that already have health coverage. THEY WERE DOING THERE JOB.

December 23 2010 at 1:51 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

If we keep this crap up, the next disaster and nobody will help, lest the should be left without health care.

FIRST, we were not prepared for toxic dust to be spread over half of NY City and NY didn't even have enough face masks for everyone. Most went in unprotected and I can't even speak of the precious animals that were subjected without the slightest concern for their safety. People go where angels fear to tread.

But, even now, God Forbid, if this happened again, the same thing would happen. There are not enough first responders, properly trained, with enough equipment and masks on such a huge level.

We had warnings about this type of debauchery and if we had bothered to listen, it could have been avoided. It still makes me sick the dogs that were in cages on the lower levels because they were put there by their police officer owners, while they responded. I would have taken my dog with me, plain and simple. The things humans do is so inane most times it makes me ashamed to be human.

December 23 2010 at 1:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Typical. We're with you right up to the point that you get injured.
All those whining about the money would never think about running into a building for other people. Cowards. Greedy cowards at that.

December 23 2010 at 1:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Although this is a nice gesture, I'd like to know why it is necessary. What about all the other civil service workers not involved in 9/11, but still risking their lives for their country, their communities or others.

December 22 2010 at 10:55 PM Report abuse -13 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Debbie's comment

How often do all the other civil service workers have to handle a "9-11" situation? Unlike house fires and automobile wrecks, 9-11 was also caused by a foreign enemy that impacted the nation at the federal level. The difference is black and white.

December 22 2010 at 11:38 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

I agree 100%. What happened was sad, But they knew there were dangers when they took on these jobs.

December 23 2010 at 12:17 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

Sometimes when I read these posts I wonder if my fellow Americans ever went to school. ALL Americans from both parties wish to aid the responders. Not ONE party or the OTHER has the majority on caring people. They held it up because the Democrats had proposed a $7 billion dollar bill initially with NO controls. the Republicans said they want controls on how much lawyers could make so they placed a ceiling of 10%. The Republicans also wanted accountability so that those who were even there or worked at the site could file for a claim. When the controls were put in place it was passed. The idea that only those inone party have a heart is widespread and idiotic. Stop listening to Stewart.

December 22 2010 at 9:44 PM Report abuse -12 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dc walker's comment

How come they don't put controls on the billions missing going to Afghanistan? We have already lost 19 billion. those same GOP senators that didn't want Americans saved were fine with sending more money to Afghanistan without controls. Gee makes a honest man wonder. Or a thinking person!

December 23 2010 at 12:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I do hope there are safeguards in place to assure that only those who were truly there as 911 responders will reap these benefits. So many phony insurance claims already out of this tragedy. I understand those who believe that those who were on the job already should be covered by their workman's comp, but I also know that many off-duty came in to help on their own time and many from outside the NY area who were part of other emergency organizations in other states helped. It certainly wasn't simply a NY problem...our nation was attacked. It would be like expecting Hawaii to pick up the tab for Pearl Harbor.

December 22 2010 at 9:42 PM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply

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