Thanks, Again, Mr. Bush!
WASHINGTON – The outgoing Bush administration appears to be working “covertly” on a contract that would strip the 9/11 health and treatment program from the FDNY and Mount Sinai Medical Center, sources told the Daily News.
The plan, which sources say is being batted around within the Department of Health and Human Services, would yank all Sept. 11-related monitoring and care from the city and put it in the hands of of one company – likely based outside the city.
A new contract could potentially force 9/11 patients pay up front for services, and then be reimbursed. Currently, the tab is covered.
More than 50,000 people are enrolled in the city-based health and monitoring program, open to those exposed to Ground Zero. About 16,000 participants are actively receiving treatment.
Some 4,000 people are enrolled in a national version.
“The department is not working on a solicitation of this type and this allegation is untrue,” HHS spokeswoman Christina Pearson insisted.
Nevertheless, a source told The News officials within the department “have not liked this program from the beginning.”
“They are ideologues, and they could stick the Obama administration with this contract. At best, it’s disruptive,” the source added.
A spokesman for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which administers the 9/11 programs, said the contract for treating ill Americans outside of the tri-state area would end in the summer – but could not say if there were any plans for the city programs.
“What they want to do is broaden that national contract, and put everyone in there,” a source with New York ties said, adding that federal officials appear to be trying to bid out the new program before Barack Obama takes office.
The source said New York legislators learned of the impending move after a potential contractor called them, hoping to get help preparing a bid.
That prompted Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler (D- Manhattan) to fire off a angry letter Thursday demanding an explanation for the secret moves after officials had promised to keep them in the loop.
“Last week, we were dismayed to hear of a new solicitation about to be issued by your department that would apparently replace all current arrangements,” says the letter addressed to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt and obtained by the News.
“This information on the new solicitation concerned us not only with regard to the potential damage to the current program,” the letter went on, “but also regarding the apparent attempt to covertly announce this contract solicitation in the last days of the Bush administration.”
Maloney and Nadler gave the secretary three days to respond.
“We just received this letter today and immediately called their offices to say these allegations are unfounded,” Pearson said.