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Read the letter regarding changes the Bush administration is planning to make in health care for 9/11 workers.

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Bush plans to put 9/11 workers care in hands of company based outside NY; sick would pay upfront

By MICHAEL McAULIFF
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU

WASHINGTON - The outgoing Bush administration is working "covertly" on a contract that would yank 9/11 health and treatment programs from the FDNY and Mount Sinai Medical Center and could force patients to pay upfront, two New York lawmakers charge.

In a letter obtained first by the Daily News, Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) accuse the Department of Health and Human Services of drawing up plans to put Sept.11-related programs under one contractor, likely based outside of the tri-state area.

About 50,000 people in the metropolitan area are enrolled in 9/11 programs, and 16,000 get care through the FDNY, Mount Sinai and five area hospitals.

An HHS spokeswoman adamantly denied the accusation as "rumors."

But a separate source told The News that a proposal exists, and that among the provisions is a change requiring ill 9/11 responders to pay for services upfront, and get reimbursed. Now the costs are covered.

Health and Human Services "have not liked this program from the beginning," the source said. "They are ideologues, and they could stick the Obama administration with this contract. At best, it's disruptive."

HHS officials have promised to inform legislators of changes, but Nadler and Maloney only learned of the new plans when an outside contractor hoping to win the business reached out to them, a source said.

Maloney's office confirmed they were contacted, but kept the name of the firm private.

"Last week, we were dismayed to hear of a new solicitation about to be issued by your department that would apparently replace all current arrangements," says Maloney and Nadler's letter to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt. "This information on the new solicitation concerned us not only with regard to the potential damage to the current program, but also regarding the apparent attempt to covertly announce this contract solicitation."

HHS spokeswoman Christina Pearson said she had no idea where the company or the legislators got their information.

"We just received this letter today and immediately called their offices to say these allegations are unfounded," Pearson said. "The department is not working on a solicitation of this type and this allegation is untrue."

The three main monitoring and care programs for firefighters, workers and citizens whose health was affected by the terror attacks run under separate contracts that expire in June.

"What they want to do is broaden that national contract, and put everyone in there," a source said, adding that federal officials are trying to bid out the new program before Barack Obama takes office.

Maloney was skeptical of the HHS public denial. "It's good to hear them say there are no such plans, but I still wonder why different sources tell us there are plans, or at least there were," Maloney told The News.

mmcauliff@nydailynews.com