Smallpox Compensation Plan Funding Included in FY 2003 Supplemental Plan Approved by House Committee
The House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved on a 59-0 vote a $77.9 billion fiscal year 2003 supplemental appropriations plan, which would fund the war against Iraq and homeland security issues, including the smallpox vaccine compensation program that failed to pass the full House on Monday, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Fram, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/2). Under the smallpox compensation bill, sponsored by Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), people who become disabled or die as a result of the smallpox vaccine or their survivors would receive a lump sum of $262,100. The legislation also 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, the maximum benefit for death or permanent disability (California Healthline, 4/1).
The House FY 2003 supplemental plan would allocate $165 million for bioterrorism and public health efforts, including $50 million for the smallpox vaccine compensation program, $94 million to help state and local health authorities with the costs of the civilian smallpox vaccination program and $16 million for the CDC to research Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, known as SARS (House Appropriations Committee release, 4/1). The House plan also would allocate $2.2 billion for first responders to a disaster, including $700 million for "high-density, high-threat urban areas" and the rest for states, CongressDaily reports (Ghent, CongressDaily, 4/1). The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday approved a $78.8 billion FY 2003 supplemental appropriations bill, but the measure does not include funds for smallpox vaccine compensation, CongressDaily/AM reports (Ghent/Fulton, CongressDaily/AM, 4/2). The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is expected to mark up a smallpox vaccine compensation bill today, CongressDaily/AM reports (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 4/2). Both the full House and Senate are expected to approve their versions of the supplemental appropriations measure "within days" and send President Bush a reconciled bill by April 11, the Los Angeles Times reports (Simon, Los Angeles Times, 4/2).
The action by some House members to vote against Burr's smallpox compensation plan on Monday "was a sop to union leaders who are holding out for more money and scaring their health care industry members," a Wall Street Journal editorial states. While some lawmakers and others have said that Burr's bill "is too stingy," the Journal states that it would give the "same amount the Justice Department pays firefighters or policemen injured or killed on duty." The editorial adds, "Does anyone think cops and firemen are worth less than hospital workers?" Further, the Journal says that "most workers already have access to insurance and workers' comp for minor reactions" to the smallpox vaccine and notes that military statistics show that only 3% of troops vaccinated have required sick leave, with average time off of 1.5 days. While there has "been alarm over three people who died of heart attacks after vaccination ... [t]he reality is that for well-screened, healthy adults, the risks of vaccination are minuscule," the Journal states. "The Bush administration is taking bioterror[ism] seriously," the editorial concludes, adding, "Is it too much to ask that Congress and unions do their part?" (Wall Street Journal, 4/2).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.