As the nation marks the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the federal government is still working to ensure that the people who came into close contact with Ground Zero are receiving the health treatment they need. So far, about 1,140 Americans have been diagnosed with cancers that resulted from the toxins at the site of the World Trade Center collapse, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Fortunately, those people are now eligible for care through the CDC’s World Trade Center Health Program, which provides free care for 9/11 first responders and survivors who lived near the site of the attack. That wasn’t always the case. The $4.3 billion compensation fund didn’t start covering cancer until last September. Administrators said the link between Ground Zero debris and cancer wasn’t strong enough to necessitate coverage, but several studies on the issue ended up changing their minds.
The most recent research into the issue found that 9/11 first responders have a 15 percent higher rate of cancer than the general population. Health experts expect that number to continue to rise, since some types of cancer can take decades to develop.
Congress approved the health fund as part of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act — named after a New York City police officer who died from a respiratory diseases that resulted from the toxic chemicals at Ground Zero — in 2010. The first responders began getting their payments at the beginning of this year. Senate Republicans nearly derailed the bill before its passage, however, saying it was too expensive. They convinced Democrats to scale back the fund from $7.4 billion in payments over eight years to $4.8 billion over the same time period.
Thanks to the automatic budget cuts that resulted from the sequester, the compensation is getting trimmed even further. The Zadroga fund faces $38 million in cuts this year, and could end up losing up to $300 million over the current planned life of the program. A coalition of New York senators and House members have submitted joint legislation to exempt the 9/11 fund from the sequester cuts, but it’s currently pending in budget committees.
Cancer treatment typically represents one of the biggest drains on Americans’ bank accounts. Americans who battle cancer are nearly twice as likely to go bankrupt, even if they have some type of health insurance.