The House of Representatives is scheduled Tuesday to consider a bipartisan bill to add new seasonal flu vaccines to the IRS definition of taxable vaccines. The Senate has already reached an agreement to vote on its version of the bill without further debate if the House passes an identical version. If passed into law, all new flu vaccines would become subject to the 75¢ per dose vaccine tax, and also become eligible to be included in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). A summary of the bill provided by the House Republican Conference explains:
The VICP is a federal program designed as a no-fault alternative to traditional tort law for resolving vaccine injury claims arising from covered vaccines. The program is funded through a 75¢ excise tax on each dose of specified vaccines. However, current law only covers “trivalent” (three-strain) vaccines against influenza. Recently, many manufacturers have begun producing more effective “quadrivalent” (four-strain) vaccines, but have held off on bringing the vaccines to market until the statute is updated. H.R. 475 amends the statute to cover all seasonal influenza vaccines under the VICP, ensuring that new, more effective vaccines are made available to the greater public.
The balance in the VICP fund as of May 2013 was about $3.4 billion. The fund has paid out only $2.7 billion since it was established in 1988 for cases involving all vaccines; about 17 percent of those cases involved a flu vaccine. At that payout rate, the $3.4 billion balance could last another 25 years with no new revenue. However, in response to initial reports on the legislation in April, Julia Lawless, GOP press secretary of U.S. Senate Finance Committee, issued the following statement:
First off, the Joint Committee on Taxation is clear this bill is not a tax increase. Secondly, the legislation is about ensuring vaccine manufacturers produce vaccines for the next flu season – not past flu seasons. Thirdly, the threat of litigation has been so severe against these manufacturers that this compensation fund had to be created or they would not have produced these vaccines. That threat of litigation still exists and so does the need for vaccines. We need to be careful how that fund is financed, because having it run a deficit could be dangerous when our goal is to ensure the production of safe vaccines.
A representative of the Biotech Industry Organization emailed to weigh in as well, and largely echoed the response of Ms. Lawless, concluding with:
This is an extremely important public health matter.
The issue before Congress is whether the newest seasonal influenza vaccine will be covered by the VICP in time for the 2013-14 flu season.
The other issue raised by the article about the balance in the fund is an entirely separate matter that would require in-depth analysis by experts in the field[.]
The documentation accompanying the proposed legislation does not indicate whether or not any such analysis of the fund has been conducted. The tax on flu vaccines raises about $100 million each year. The "trust fund" is invested in U.S. Treasury securities, helping to finance the national debt.
UPDATE: The bill passes the House, the Hill reports:
The House on Tuesday afternoon approved legislation meant to ensure an ample supply of the latest flu vaccine is available by the next flu season.
By voice vote, members approved H.R. 475, which would include a flu vaccine that attacks a new strain of flu on a list of taxable vaccines.