Medicare issues rule on smallpox damages

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced an interim final rule to identify and compensate ED staff and others injured as a result of receiving a smallpox vaccine. The interim rule for the new Smallpox Vaccine Injury Compensation Program describes eligibility criteria, the process for requesting benefits and receiving payments, and other necessary policies and procedures.

Funded at $42 million, the program provides financial and medical benefits to eligible members of an HHS-approved smallpox emergency response plan who sustain certain medical injuries caused by a smallpox vaccine. In addition, nonvaccinated individuals injured after coming into contact with vaccinated members of an emergency response plan — or with a person with whom the vaccinated person had contact — may be eligible for program benefits. The program also provides benefits to survivors of eligible individuals whose death resulted from a covered injury.

While some ED managers welcome the compensation plan, it might not alleviate the difficulty of convincing staff to be vaccinated, says Val Gokenbach, RN, MBA, CAN, director of emergency services and observation at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI. "Although I agree with the need for the compensation program, it has not changed the minds or increased the willingness of the staff to become vaccinated," she explains. "Without an imminent threat, the risks of the vaccine still seem to outweigh the perceived benefits."

To file a claim, and to find forms and information, go to: www.hrsa.gov/smallpoxinjury.