Officials with Logistics Health Inc. on Monday blamed the federal government for delays in implementing a program to provide health care for responders to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Company officials, including former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, responded angrily Monday to a Wisconsin State Journal story that raised questions about Logistics Health's performance on an $11 million one-year contract with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an agency that Thompson once supervised.

The story quoted critics as saying that reimbursement for health-care costs and regular medical monitoring for more than 4,000 people enrolled in the program had lagged for months after the La Crosse-based company began handling the contract in July. The contract calls for LHI to provide health care and regular health monitoring exams to ailing 9/11 responders who live outside the New York City area.

In interviews with the State Journal and the La Crosse Tribune, Thompson and LHI officials insisted they were ready to care for the ailing responders "immediately" but that NIOSH had thrown up roadblocks.

Thompson, who is president of LHI, and other company officials had declined to talk about the contract before the story was published, saying a provision in the pact prohibited them from speaking to the press. However, NIOSH spokesman Fred Blosser provided the contract language, which required that the company get NIOSH approval before releasing any statistical information about the program.

Logistics Health chairman and CEO Don Weber said the company has decided to speak out. "I'm sick of being punched around and not being able to come back and say, 'Wait a minute.' Working with NIOSH has been very difficult. ... It's time we're taking a stand."

Weber and Thompson both insisted that Thompson had nothing to do with the federal contract being awarded to LHI. Thompson also chalked up delays in the 9/11 responder contract to NIOSH, not Logistics Health.

"NIOSH told us not to send out any letters (to enroll responders)," Thompson said. "That's what got screwed up - not LHI. They (NIOSH) are an agency that has serious problems."

Blosser said he's aware of a one-month delay that occurred after his agency asked LHI which consent form it planned to send to responders.

"In August, our staff contacted LHI to say that we wanted to make sure that the enrollment form that LHI proposed to include in the information packet for responders was the correct and appropriate form for the purpose. Subsequently we learned that LHI had held off sending the packets after getting that message," Blosser said. "The packets then went out. The time lapsed was about one month."

LHI said it also ran into problems getting accurate contact information for the responders. So far, 3,019 of the 4,200 have been reached, officials said.

"A lot of the information was inaccurate," Weber said. "No address, no phone number."

Thompson also said once patients were enrolled, the company worked quickly to respond to their medical needs. He called LHI the "best in the business" at providing health care to large targeted populations. He called coverage of the contract delays "unfair."

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