Lawmakers Make Final Changes to Homeland Bill -- Add More Pork
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Source: Fox News
Lawmakers Make Final Changes to Homeland Bill
Thursday, November 14, 2002
WASHINGTON — As negotiators wrapped up the compromise on the creation of a massive new Homeland Security Department, lawmakers inserted two key provisions to provide immediate financial windfalls to the health care and airline industries.
The homeland security bill requires the government to pay all damages if someone is sickened or dies from a smallpox vaccination, Fox News has learned. It also grants the airline industry a long-sought extension in government-subsidized terrorism insurance.
Smallpox is a real bio-terrorism threat. The government is preparing for an attack with a massive vaccination program for the public.
"The point I think we have to make with smallpox vaccination is we got to start rolling it out. We've got to have our first responders vaccinated. We've got to use the best vaccines we can muster but we've got to disperse them throughout the U.S.," said Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., a member of the Select Intelligence Committee.
The health care industry is seeking the protection from lawsuits because in rare cases, the vaccination can cause life-threatening side effects or death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that up to 50 people out of 1 million vaccinated will develop serious side effects, and that one to two patients out of 1 million will die.
According to a last-minute change to the homeland security bill, blanket liability protection to the entire health care industry from any smallpox vaccine suits will be provided after the secretary of Health and Human Services declares that "an actual or potential bioterrorist incident" requires the government to administer smallpox vaccines.
Once the attack is declared, the government provides complete liability protection to the vaccine's manufacturers and distributors, hospitals, health maintenance organizations, nursing homes, doctors, nurses and state-certified health care workers involved in dispensing the vaccine.
Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the Senate's sole doctor, applauded the agreement.
"This threat of liability and fear of lawsuits is a barrier to the administration of that vaccine," Frist said.
The coverage will also apply to those who sue because they were sickened because they lived with someone who was vaccinated — even though they didn't receive the vaccine themselves. Those most at risk of the vaccine are those with weakened immune systems, such as those who are HIV positive, those receiving cancer treatments or those taking steroids. The vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women or children under 18.
As for the provision added for the airline industry, the bill permits the Federal Aviation Administration to continue insuring commercial airlines against terror attacks, which they began doing soon after the Sept. 11 attacks.
This process had been subject to 60-day extensions, but the bill will allow the program until at least Aug. 31, 2003, and gives the secretary of Transportation the authority to extend it on his own until Dec. 31, 2003, if circumstances warrant.
"The events of 9/11 have had long lasting effects, especially on the airlines and other travel related industries and that's a problem," said Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.
All commercial airlines lost terrorism insurance soon after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. When private insurers re-offered insurance several months later the premiums were prohibitively expensive.
According to the Air Transport Association, the commercial airlines' main lobbying group, insurance rates for the entire industry rose from $13 million before Sept. 11 to $1.4 billion afterwards.
The FAA currently provides terrorism insurance for all commercial airlines at a cost of $400 million.
"This is everything the industry sought and we are very pleased," said Mike Wascom, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association.
The insurance, known in congressional parlance as "war-risk insurance," was not originally part of either the House or Senate homeland security bills.
For now, no one is calling either of the additional provisions special interest perks, merely tools the industries need to survive in a dangerous new world.
Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.
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