Action on Federal Smallpox Compensation Program Expected in Congress
Several lawmakers from both houses yesterday said that they will "move quickly" to approve a federal program proposed Wednesday by the Bush administration that would compensate health care and emergency workers who experience adverse reactions to the smallpox vaccine as part of the national vaccination plan, but the program remains "far from a done deal," CongressDaily/AM reports (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 3/7). Under the program, participants in the smallpox vaccination plan or individuals who contract a related virus from them who become disabled or die would receive compensation for medical expenses and a percentage of lost wages. Individuals who die or become disabled as a result of the smallpox vaccine would qualify for $262,100 in benefits. The program also would compensate participants for two-thirds of lost wages after they miss five days of work for illnesses related to smallpox vaccination. A Bush administration official estimated that the program could cost between $20 million and $30 million; Congress must approve funds for the program.
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, plans to sponsor legislation to establish the program (California Healthline, 3/6). Gregg said yesterday that he hopes to move the bill through committee before the end of the month and that he has begun discussions on the compensation program with committee ranking member Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). According to a Kennedy spokesperson, Kennedy considers the program a "good first step" but has concerns that the "compensation is not generous enough" and that that the program does not provide funds for states to implement their smallpox vaccination plans, CongressDaily/AM reports. In the House, a spokesperson for Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that Tauzin also expects to move legislation to establish the compensation program through committee before the end of the month. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has introduced a different bill that would establish a "far more generous" compensation program, CongressDaily/AM reports (CongressDaily/AM, 3/7).
Meanwhile, several health officials yesterday announced that the federal government will allow states to "speed up" smallpox vaccinations for emergency workers and will vaccinate several hundred federal health workers, the Washington Post reports (Connolly, Washington Post, 3/7). In December, the Bush administration announced a plan to vaccinate 500,000 health care workers between Jan. 24 and Feb. 24. However, as of Tuesday, only 12,404 health care workers had received the smallpox vaccine (Pear, New York Times, 3/7). As a result, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson yesterday said that the federal government will allow states to move to the second phase of the smallpox vaccination program, in which as many as 10 million emergency workers will receive the vaccine (Washington Post, 3/7). Thompson also said that HHS will begin to vaccinate CDC employees and uniformed officers in the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service (New York Times, 3/7). Thompson yesterday "laid out the smallpox threat in stark terms" and called on health care workers to participate in the vaccination plan, according to the AP/Orlando Sentinel. He said, "It is so contagious. It can spread quickly. It is so deadly." CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding added, "This is not a time for complacency. Now more than ever we really need to scale up and speed up this vaccine program" (Meckler, AP/Orlando Sentinel, 3/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.