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Daily News

Editorials

December 19, 2007

Leavitt slams the door

9/11 - Forgotten HeroesHealth and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt outdid himself by summarily canceling a plan to start a national health care system for sick 9/11 rescue and recovery workers.

In killing a program developed by his own experts — top people at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health — Leavitt again evaded the federal government's responsibility to assist the thousands of men and women who responded to the terror attack at great personal cost.

This is nothing new for Leavitt. The secretary is experienced at turning his back on the lung illnesses afflicting Ground Zero responders. Twice he has given top people the stated mission of coordinating a national health care effort, only to squelch the first attempt and allow the second to wither.

Now, though, Leavitt has trashed detailed work by U.S. medical professionals who studied the scope of the epidemic, developed a method for providing treatment across the country, projected the costs and sought bids from private companies interested in managing the system.

The tab for the first year was estimated at — oops! — as much as $165 million. And so the order came down from on high: The bidding was to stop forthwith, if not sooner.

But, try as he might, Leavitt cannot escape the powerful facts that his professional staff put on the record.

Those include a realistic estimate of the Forgotten Victims of 9/11: 37,000 are in monitoring or treatment programs now, and an additional 15,000 are expected to seek help in the next two years.

Most patients are from the New York area. But 8,000 of those current and future patients are located in states across the nation, having traveled here to help when America needed them or left the city in the intervening years.

The abandoned plan would have established a national network to find, monitor and treat responders; streamlined funding to specialized 9/11-related treatment centers nationwide, such as the city's Mount Sinai Medical Center, and enabled those centers to negotiate as a group for the best price for medicines.

Leavitt's minions offered their justifications for canceling the program. Among them were assertions that bidders were confused, that Congress had not appropriated funds and that there was no rush because federal dollars are, for the moment, keeping Mount Sinai's and other 9/11 health efforts in business.

All of which is eyewash.

And the accompanying promise that, maybe, someday, Leavitt's department will develop a new plan, as it remains "supportive of the recovery efforts involving the World Trade Center disaster," was both disingenuous and insulting.

There is no reason to take the secretary at his word because his actions tell the whole sorry story.

They've got 'em covered

Particularly terrified by the terrorists in the wake of 9/11 were the nation's insurance companies, which suddenly faced catastrophic losses as the possibilities of further attacks loomed large. Terrorism coverage stopped. Result: severely underinsured office buildings, with attendant lowered credit ratings and construction halts. President Bush responded by signing into law the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, serving the public good by making the government the insurer of last resort.

TRIA was to expire at year's end, but yesterday the House passed a Senate-approved bill to extend it for seven years and sent the legislation on to the White House for Bush's signature. For once, Congress has done the right thing.

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