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Funds for Vaccine Injury Set

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Washington--A program to compensate children injured by vaccinations would take effect under a provision of the budget-reconciliation measure approved by the House Ways and Means Committee.

The program, enacted last year as part of an omnibus health bill, set up a no-fault system under which families could receive compensation for children's permanent injuries without having to prove negligence on the part of the vaccine manufacturer. (See Education Week, April 22, 1987.)

Families refusing the compensation could still sue, but manufacturers were given stronger protection from liability for unavoidable side effects.

Compensation was to come from a special trust fund financed by an excise tax on each dose of vaccine.

But because the Ways and Means panel had no time to complete action on the finance mechanism before the end of the 99th Congress, the program was approved but not funded.

This past summer, the tax panel determined that the excise tax necessary to finance the measure as written would be unacceptably high. Its author, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, prepared a scaled-down plan, which was approved this month by the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Under the new plan, compensation would be paid in a lump sum, rather than as bills arise, and the number of cases covered by the trust fund would be limited to an average of 150 a year.

Additionally, only children injured after Oct. 1, 1988, would be paid from the fund; prior injuries would be compensated from Congressional appropriations.

The Ways and Means bill would authorize the excise tax for four years. The tax would be 29 cents per dose of polio vaccine and about $4.50 per dose for vaccines to prevent diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, mumps, and German measles.

Although the measure was passed last year with bipartisan support, President Reagan threatened to veto the funding mechanism unless the system was changed.

The Administration favors a plan similar to workers' compensation, which would completely remove victims' right to sue and would pay claims from a fund financed by industry contributions rather than a federal fund financed through taxes.

The President's decision on whether to veto the reconciliation bill is unlikely to be based on the vaccine provision, however, and its fate is tied to that of the overall package.--jm

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