Cassidy introduces bipartisan bill to ensure federal coverage of new vaccines for moms, kids

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) has introduced the U.S. Senate version of a bipartisan bill to guarantee that all new maternal and childhood vaccines are covered under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).

U.S. Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) joined Sen. Cassidy last week to introduce the Senate version of the Vaccine Access Improvement Act of 2018, H.R. 4993, which would amend the federal tax code to streamline the taxation step for new vaccines that are eligible for the VICP under the 21st Century Cures Act.

“As a doctor and a senator, I have witnessed the red tape that delays patients’ access to life-saving vaccines and treatments, increasing costs,” Sen. Cassidy said. “This legislation is crucial to ensuring children and mothers have better access to safe, cutting-edge vaccines.”

H.R. 4993, introduced on Feb. 8 by U.S. Reps. Mike Kelly (R-PA) and Brian Higgins (D-NY), is currently under consideration by the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill would direct the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to notify the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and other relevant congressional committees of jurisdiction, that new vaccines have been added to the VICP’s Vaccine Injury Table, according to a summary provided by Sen. Cassidy’s office.

Additionally, the bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code to automatically designate all new maternal and childhood vaccines that are covered under the VICP as subject to the existing excise tax to fund the VICP, according to the summary.

The VICP is a no-fault alternative to the traditional legal system for resolving vaccine injury petitions, according to the senator’s summary. Any individual, of any age, who received a covered vaccine and thinks he or she was injured as a result, may file a petition under the program, including the parents and legal guardians on behalf of children, disabled adults and individuals who are deceased.

“As scientific research yields new vaccines that can protect us from illness, we must ensure the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is updated in a timely manner,” Sen. Casey said, adding that the bill would “streamline the process for adding a vaccine in the VICP to Treasury’s list of taxable vaccines, thereby completing the process of adding the vaccine to the compensation program faster.”

Sen. Isakson called the bill a “commonsense solution to get vaccines to patients more quickly, helping to protect Americans against life-threatening diseases while ensuring that the small number of patients who experience side effects get the care they need.”

“There is no reason for the legislative process of Congress to slow down vaccines from being added to the compensation program if they have already been determined to be safe and effective and have been cleared for distribution” by the federal government, added Isakson.

“Vaccines save lives and we need to do what we can to ensure they are safe and accessible,” said Sen. Cardin.

At the same time, the HHS Secretary is seeking public comments until Oct. 1 on its proposal to amend the VICP’s Vaccine Injury Table to include vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for routine administration in pregnant women. The secretary seeks public comment regarding how the addition of this new category is to be formatted on the table, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.