Ground Zero Heroes and Public Policy

Beyond the finding that huge numbers of Ground Zero heroes have lingering illness, what tomorrow’s publication of a study about their health reveals is truly troubling. Forty percent of them do not have health insurance and, without special government assistance, could not afford continuing care.

The city of New York and the Bush Administration are pumping money their way, but it will never be enough and it raises the question of which heroes we want to rescue from the ranks of the uninsured. Only the ones at Ground Zero but not the everyday heroes who drive cabs, wait tables, clean your house or take care of your children?

From a scientific standpoint, there are questions to be answered, also. What, if anything, about the Ground Zero workers made them so susceptible to chronic disease, beside their evident selflessness? One parademic says the researchers “could have saved a lot of money by just calling me and asking how I felt.”

Sorry, but that kind of remark is how headlines are made but not how policy should be. Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg for saying the unsayable: “I don’t believe that you can say specifically a particular problem came from this particular effect. There is no way to tell for sure, and you’ve got to be very careful. If I say, ‘I’ve got something because of this,’ that’s just not the way science works.”

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