Thursday, April 25, 2013

Congress Prepares Flu Vaccine Tax [Clarification added]

    Congress is preparing to take action on a bipartisan proposal to raise taxes on flu vaccines. This is not a tax on the wealthy, but rather on a broad swath of Americans, or at least those who choose to be immunized against the flu.
    In February, identical bills were introduced in the House and Senate to add seasonal flu vaccines to the IRS code as taxable.  The legislation would exact a 75¢ per dose tax on any "vaccine against seasonal influenza."  Given that the Centers for Disease Control projects that 135 million doses of flu vaccine will be used this year, the government's take on flu vaccines alone is over $100,000,000 per year.
    Along with taxes on other vaccines, this tax would fund the Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund.  The fund is a "no-fault alternative to the traditional tort system for resolving vaccine injury claims that provides compensation to people found to be injured by certain vaccines."  However, the fund is by no means in the same kind of trouble that other government "trust funds" are.
    The balance in the fund (as of November 2012) was more than $3.5 billion.  Since the program's inception in 1988, the fund has paid out only $2.5 billion in 25 years for cases involving all vaccines, not just the flu vaccine.  This means the balance in the fund could conceivably last another 25 years with no further tax revenue.
     The House bill (H.R. 475) was submitted on February 4th by Republican Jim Gerlach with Democrat Richard Neal co-sponsoring, and the Senate version (S. 391) was submitted by Democrat Max Baucus and co-sponsor Republican Orrin Hatch.  The same legislation had been introduced in the 112th Congress just months ago.  The House version died in committee, but the Senate version actually passed by unanimous consent the day it was introduced.
    Now, a posting on the Senate website reports that the Senate has reached an agreement on the current legislation. Although this flu season is winding down now, the tax could easily be in place by next winter if the House follows suit and the president signs it:
The Senate reached an agreement that if the Senate receives H.R.475 from the House of Representatives and the bill is identical to the text of which is at the desk, then the bill be read three times and the Senate proceed to a vote, at a time to be determined by the Majority Leader in consultation with the Minority Leader, with no intervening action or debate. H.R.475, a bill to amend the internal Revenue Code of 1986 to include vaccines against seasonal influenza within the definition of taxable vaccines.
    As is the case with all government "trust funds," there is no cash set aside to pay out claims.  According to the November 2012 report on the vaccine trust, the $3.5 billion balance is invested in "US Treasury Securities."  In other words, financing a portion of the $16.5 trillion national debt.

Note: This article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

The current IRS code definition of a “taxable vaccine” already includes “Any trivalent vaccine against influenza.”  The new law reads that “Subparagraph (N) of section 4132(a)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended by inserting 'or any other vaccine against seasonal influenza' before the period.”  This is to make sure that all future flu vaccines are taxable in addition to the current ones.  Some interpreted my original article to mean that no flu vaccines were previously taxable, and now they would be.  The discovery that previous flu vaccines have ben taxable all along is not likely to assuage the anger many have expressed, especially in light of the $3.5 billion balance in the "trust fund."

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