WASHINGTON – As President Bush's health chief, Tommy Thompson proudly trumpeted millions of taxpayer dollars to help workers sickened by the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center, even amid complaints that his agency wasn't doing enough.
Now, Thompson's private company has won an $11 million contract to treat some of those same workers — the latest twist in a fitful government effort to determine how many people were made ill by the toxic debris — and to care for them.
The contract awarded by the Centers for Disease Control is aimed at tracking the health of between 4,000 and 6,000 workers who live outside the New York City area, where a separate health monitoring program is in place. The CDC is part of the Health and Human Services Department, which Thompson headed in Bush's first term.
Internal e-mails obtained by The Associated Press show that the one-year contract went to Logistics Health, Inc., a La Crosse, Wis.-based company where Thompson is president.
While secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Thompson was pressed by New York lawmakers to take a more active and aggressive role in tracking and treating Sept. 11-related health problems.
"It is ironic that former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's firm won the contract to provide the services, given the history of delay from the Bush administration when he was secretary and now," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. "But I am glad these heroes are finally getting the help they deserve."
A spokeswoman for Logistics Health did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The government has struggled to effectively track the health issues of Ground Zero workers who live outside New York. Advocates and some lawmakers have unsuccessfully sought to establish a permanent, government-funded treatment program.
In the years since the 2001 attacks, studies show workers who toiled at the site have had higher than normal rates of lung problems and post-traumatic stress. Others have complained of an increase in gastrointestinal disorders.
The CDC contract was awarded after the government received proposals from four different companies, including Thompson's, officials said. The contract went to Logistics Health based on "an evaluation of everything from cost to technical abilities to past performance," CDC spokeswoman Bernadette Burden said.
Thompson's company already provides some medical services for the Army.
Logistics Health will provide annual examinations to World Trade Center responders around the country, diagnose and treat Sept. 11-related conditions and provide a pharmacy benefit to those responders.
Late last year, the government halted an effort to organize health monitoring for Ground Zero workers spread around the U.S., saying the program could cost far more money than Congress has provided.
Estimates on how much treatment these workers need — and how much it will cost — vary widely. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have put the figure at around $400 million a year, but that amount includes treating the much larger group of patients who live in and around New York City.
According to New York City officials, some 400,000 people were exposed to Ground Zero dust, and 71,000 have enrolled in a long-term health monitoring program for people with and without health problems. Health advocates believe the number of people who have become sickened years after their exposure is in the thousands.