“As we have all seen with our own eyes again and again, cancer incidence among responders and survivors is a tragic fact, and we must continue to do everything we can to provide the help that those who are sick need and deserve,” they said.
“Together with our allies, New York City pushed for periodic reviews of the medical evidence to ensure that all those ill from exposure to the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks receive the care they need,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “Today’s decision is an important step in that process, and we will continue to stand up for all those impacted by the 9-11 attacks on our country.”
There has been some concern that adding cancer to the list of covered conditions could put a severe financial strain on the program’s limited resources. Congress capped funding for the program at $1.55 billion for treatment and $2.78 billion for compensation payments. Those amounts will remain unchanged even if many people file for benefits.
Some 60,000 people have already enrolled in 9/11 health programs for those who lived or worked within the disaster zone. Up to 25,000 more could still join before the program closes.
In its current form, however, the program is only open to people who have already been sick, or who get sick in the next 4 1/2 years. That means that only a fraction of the people who were exposed to the dust, and who eventually develop cancer, can actually get coverage.
Based on those figures, NIOSH estimated that the cost of treatment to be about $33 million per year.
No estimate has been done, yet, on how much the addition of cancer might cost the compensation program, which pays people based on suffering and economic losses caused by their illnesses.
Sheila Birnbaum, the special master overseeing applications for compensation, has said that payouts to the families of people killed by cancer are likely to be significant, and warned that if funding runs out, it might be necessary to prorate payments based on the number of people who apply.
Backers of the program, including King, Nadler and Maloney, are already talking about getting more funding, and also extending the program
Noah Kushlefsky, an attorney who represents about 3,800 people who plan to enroll in the program, said he was confident Congress will eventually extend the fund past 2016, and appropriate additional money if necessary.
“This is a huge victory on many levels. This gives them much needed health care. It gives them much needed financial assistance … I think that it means a lot emotionally as well,” he said. “These folks needed to know that everybody recognized what they did, and what they are going through.”