9/11 Responders and Health Care

By Greg Scandlen

The old Congress has passed a $4.2 billion 9/11 Responders health care bill. It was passed by a unanimous voice vote in the Senate after the price tag was lowered from $6.2 billion.

All of the news articles I have seen mention it was mean old Tom Coburn who was trying to deprive our heroes of needed health care, and that Jon Stewart rode to the rescue by highlighting the plight of the victims. Not a single – not one – article I have seen had anything to say about exactly what this bill does or whom it would help.

The whole discussion seems to place 9/11 heroes at one end and a pile of money at the other end and anyone who gets in between as a villain.

But no one ever mentions how the money will be spent. Presumably these responders have pretty good health insurance. Is treatment denied them? Is this excluded from coverage because it was an act of war? I don’t know. Nobody ever says.

How many people will be helped? How much money will they each get? It’s not reported. Is there a death benefit involved? Who knows? Is there compensation to the families of victims? I can’t tell. It was $6.2 billion and now it is $4.2 billion – why? How did they calculate the number?

More importantly, what does this process say about the future of health care in America now that the federal government is in charge of all health care spending? Is every decision going to be based on a split-the-difference calculation between heart-hearted Republicans and generous Democrats? That certainly seems to be the case if you look at the sorry history of the SGR payments to physicians in Medicare. One month they are cut by 20%, the next month it is restored for a few months, then it gets cut by 25%, until it is restored once again.

Will your treatment depend on the political machinations of Congress? Will you, too, have to recruit Jon Stewart to plead your case? It’s beginning to look that way.