Without congressional action, the World Trade Center Health Program is projected to hit its statutory limit of 25,000 new 9/11 first-responder enrollees as early as October 2020, according to a letter written to Sen. Chuck Schumer by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
The letter was required under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. Under the legislation, Congress had to be notified when the WTC Health Program, which provides health care to first-responders and WTC survivors, hit 80 percent of the cap, which occurred early this month.
19,000-Plus by June
Mr. Azar wrote, “As of June 1, 2019, the number of newly-enrolled responders, excluding those who are deceased, is 19,236.”
Currently 76,050 WTC first-responders are participating in the WTC Health Program among the 90,000 who were estimated to have played a role in the 9/11 response and recovery that ended in May 2002.
In September 2014, the number of first-responders signed up to participate was 61,784.
In June a WTC Health Program physician told a congressional panel that there could be another 20,000 cancer cases diagnosed on top of the 13,000 already confirmed within the first-responder cohort and the survivor community.
The survivor population includes 400,000 people who lived, worked or went to school in lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Heights area in the WTC contamination zone.
To date, just 21,636 survivors are enrolled in the program. Unlike first-responder WTC Health Program participants, who are screened annually, survivors first must be symptomatic with a WTC health condition to enroll.
According to the WTC Health Program, 2,448 program participants have died.
Multiple symptoms are common. Of the 50,000 people with WTC health conditions so far, 22 percent have two diseases, 18 percent have three and 13 percent have four, with the other 20 percent having five or more.
More than 11,500 first-responders and 4,300 survivors have been diagnosed with mental-health issues arising from their WTC experiences.
The program has participants from all 50 states and all but one of the nation’s 435 congressional districts.
“At this time, the WTC Health Program does not expect to reach 20,000 newly-enrolled, certified eligible [civilian] survivors for several years, but will continue to monitor this population closely,” Mr. Azar wrote. “If the WTC Health Program reaches 25,000 newly enrolled responders, it will have to stop enrolling responders into the Program. However, if the WTC Health Program reaches this numerical limitation, those responders already enrolled will not be affected.”
In a joint statement, the sponsors of the original Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Bill pledged to update the legislation to ensure no one would be turned away.
‘A Technical Issue’
“This is a technical issue that can be easily fixed by Congress and does not have any impact at all on 9/11 responders and survivors currently in the program receiving services,” wrote Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney, Jerry Nadler, Peter King and House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. and Sens. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
They continued, “We are working now to make sure no future applicants are impacted. When the 2010 law was drafted, we built in this noticing requirement for when the program reached 80% of the new enrollee caps so that Congress would have more than enough time to act. This is the program working as intended, with first-responders and survivors using the programs and resources they need and deserve.”
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