downtownexpress.com
Volume 20 Issue 18 | September 14 - 20, 2007

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the World Trade Center site Monday with U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, left, state Sen. Martin Connor, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner and Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Pelosi backs 9/11 health bill

By Josh Rogers

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to the World Trade Center site Monday and announced her support for federally funded health care for anyone suffering from 9/11-related illnesses.

While the proposed bill would cover any resident, emergency responder or anyone else who could prove they have ailments caused by the attack, it is not clear how hard the most powerful person in Congress will fight to make sure residents will remain covered in the bill.

Pelosi, a Democrat from San Francisco, mentioned ground zero workers but not residents during the Monday press conference and did not respond when Downtown Express questioned her about it as she was leaving the site.

“All those who responded, whether they were volunteers or emergency services people or construction workers — to them, to those who risked their health and their lives that day — on behalf of the Congress I say thank you and I’m sorry that your needs have not been met,” she told reporters after taking a tour of the site. “But we’re here today to say that if we get the full documentation of the need, and a way to proceed, you will have friends in the Congress of the United States.”

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who will be one of the legislation’s sponsors, said Pelosi has told him privately that she supports covering residents and he guaranteed that residents would not be cut out of the effort to provide health coverage.

“They will not be negotiated out of the bill,” Nadler said. “Period.”

At the end of last year, Nadler acknowledged there was a risk that residents could be cut out of the bill because it is difficult to prove the precise cause of the diseases believed by some doctors to be connected to 9/11.

Some Downtown residents attribute their new or worsened asthma, other respiratory ailments or cancer to their exposure to the toxic plume and dust released on Sept. 11, 2001 and in the subsequent months while the W.T.C. fires continued to burn. Etta Sanders, 50, a Downtown resident and Tribeca Trib reporter, died of lung cancer on June 5 and she connected her cancer to 9/11 in an essay the Trib published posthumously.

Nadler, whose district includes the W.T.C., introduced similar 9/11 health legislation last year as did a fellow Democrat, Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has a bill that would provide $1.9 billion in coverage. The new House bill’s language has not been finalized, but its other New York sponsors will be U.S. Representatives Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat, and Vito Fossella, a Republican. Most of the New York delegation supported last year’s bill but it did not get far in the Republican-controlled Congress.

In order to be eligible for coverage under the new House bill, participants would need to have their illness connected to 9/11 by a “Center of Excellence,” or health facility that has been treating 9/11 ailments such as Mount Sinai or Bellevue, and then confirmed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH would fund the program, not Medicare, as was proposed last year.

The bill would also provide federal monitoring of anyone exposed to 9/11 toxins and reopen the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund to people who suffered economically because of a 9/11 illness.

“These are the veterans of World War III,” Maloney said. “Is our nation going to turn its back on our veterans?”

Pelosi’s visit came the day before the six-year anniversary of the attack and she toured the site with Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Nadler, Maloney, U.S. Reps. Anthony Weiner and Ed Towns, and State Sen. Martin Connor joined Pelosi and Spitzer at the press conference.

Pelosi said she found the construction progress there “dazzling.”

Josh@DowntownExpress.com





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