Senate HELP Committee Passes Smallpox Compensation Bill Supported by Republicans
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee yesterday voted 11-10 along party lines for a bill (S 719) supported by Republicans that would give a $262,100 lump sum payment to survivors of people who die or to people who become disabled as a result of receiving the smallpox vaccine, the New York Times reports. Some Democrats who support more generous compensation said they would contest the bill when it reaches the floor (Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 4/3). The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), also would compensate people with less severe injures for up to $50,000 in lost wages after they miss more than five days of work and pay for medical treatment, the Wall Street Journal reports (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 4/3). In addition, the bill would provide funds to states to provide voluntary screening tests that would look for health conditions -- HIV, pregnancy, heart disease, significant chronic skin problems and other conditions -- that could make the vaccine too risky for some people to receive, according to CongressDaily Markup Reports (Rich, CongressDaily Markup Reports, 4/2). The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a similar smallpox vaccine compensation plan with slightly more funds as part of a fiscal year 2003 supplemental spending package, which includes funds for the war with Iraq and homeland security issues. Under the House compensation plan, people who become totally disabled or survivors of those who die as a result of the smallpox vaccine would receive a lump sum of $262,100, the same amount provided in the Senate version. The House legislation would compensate participants for 66% of lost wages after they missed five days of work for illnesses related to smallpox vaccination or 75% of lost wages for workers with dependents, up to $50,000 per year, or up to $262,100 total (California Healthline, 4/2).
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said the bill is a "tin cup response to a major kind of health threat, and it insults first responders in this country." HELP committee members yesterday rejected amendments by Kennedy that would have allowed people permanently disfigured by the vaccine to receive the $262,100 maximum benefit and would have eliminated the $50,000 cap on compensation for lost wages (Connolly, Washington Post, 4/3). Gregg said that the $262,000 lump sum death benefit is equal to the amount paid to survivors of police officers killed in the line of duty and more than the $256,000 paid to survivors of fatally wounded soldiers, according to CongressDaily Markup Reports (CongressDaily Markup Reports, 4/2). He said, "This is not a legal issue. This is not a health issue. This is a national security issue. We are at war. The passage of this legislation is vital to the safety of the American people" (New York Times, 4/3). Republicans said that approving a compensation bill would substantially increase participation in the Bush administration's plan to vaccinate a total of 450,000 health care workers; about 25,000 people have received the vaccine so far, the Post reports. "We've got to get this program in place to immediately lower the barriers" to participation, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said (Washington Post, 4/3). Frist said he wants to bring the bill to the Senate floor soon, but he has yet to resolve the differences among lawmakers over compensation amounts, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports (Meckler, AP/Contra Costa Times, 4/3).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.