Costs for 9/11 emergency responders’ health plan under scrutiny

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The federal government has failed to provide detailed information on health services for World Trade Center emergency responders, despite a specific request from Congress to collect information that could help predict future costs.

Since 2001, $475 million has been spent on screening, monitoring and treating firemen, volunteers and government workers who suffered asthma, depression and other illnesses related to the World Trade Center terrorist attack, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

The GAO previously reported in 2007 that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) did not have a “reliable estimate of the cost of providing monitoring and treatment services because, in part, it did not have actual cost data from the programs.”

A Department of Health and Human Services task force ordered funding for a processing center to streamline claims and collect detailed medical and demographic information about first responders. But NIOSH quashed the proposal in December 2007, citing uncertainly about funding and lack of industry interest.

To fill the void, NIOSH increased its reporting requirements for the health programs, such as more information on patient demographics, medical conditions, and cost. An unidentified NIOSH employee interviewed by the GAO acknowledged the current quality of information is not at the level envisioned by Congress.

The GAO concluded that the insufficient information leaves Congress without the means to analyze the medical data, expenses or those being treated.

More than 9,000 ground zero workers recently agreed to a $712.5 million settlement of their health injury claims against the city of New York in a case highlighted in a Center for Public Integrity investigation about law firms borrowing money from banks and hedge funds to finance complex cases.

FAST FACT: The World Trade Center health programs have screened about 44,000 emergency responders, monitored 23,000 and treated 13,000.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities.

ENVIRONMENT

  • A USDA program tracking pesticide use, the Agriculture Chemical Usage data, failed to tell users it would be suspended for two years. A greater effort could improve the program and minimize overlaps with state and local governments. (GAO)

HEALTH

  • Congressional Budgeting Office estimates a new advisory board will cut Medicare spending by $15.5 billion when it begins work in 2013, as overall spending on government health programs approaches $3.9 trillion. (Congressional Research Service)

MISC.

  • The Library of Congress blocked access to the WikiLeaks website, hindering Congressional Research Service analysts from accessing the leaked documents. Critics say that will hurt CRS research prepared for lawmakers and force CRS analysts to access the files through personal computers or cell phones. (Secrecy News)

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