‘Compassionate Compensation’ Sought for Transfusion-Acquired AIDS Patients
Although the congressional budget agreement last month to fund a $655 million "compassionate compensation" package for hemophiliacs infected with HIV from blood products has won accolades, many consider it "tragic and unfair" that others who were infected through transfusions were intentionally excluded from the legislation, the Washington Post reports. An estimated 12,000 people became infected with HIV from blood transfusions, but laws protecting blood banks from lawsuits have impeded victims' compensation efforts in courts. The compassionate compensation bill, also known as the Ricky Ray Hemophilia Relief Fund Act, awarded $100,000 to each of the 5,500 hemophiliacs infected in the mid-1980s, or their survivors, but did not include transfusion victims because of cost, complication and likelihood of defeat, according to the bill's congressional sponsors and the National Hemophilia Foundation. "It was our view that the bill would have been defeated if it got complicated by the whole transfusion question, and the hemophiliac group needed and deserved help right away," bill advocate Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) said. While the hemophiliac community has a "strong national identity," with several active organizations whose members have "lobbied vigorously and effectively for years before the [Relief Fund Act] was passed in 1998," people with transfusion-acquired AIDS are much less widely represented. Further complicating matters and fueling skeptical lawmakers is the near impossibility of identifying individual AIDS patients who were infected with a specific transfusion, particularly more than 15 years ago. The National Association of Victims of Transfusion-Acquired AIDS was founded in 1998 with the aim to inform the public about the condition and lobby Congress for relief, but its resources are limited, group president Ann Pozen said. In 1995, the Institute of Medicine published a definitive report "highly critical of lapses by the federal government and blood bank industry" that led to the infection of approximately 8,000 hemophiliacs and 12,000 people receiving transfusions, the Post reports. According to the report, "The problems ... found indicated a failure of leadership and inadequate institutional decision-making processes in 1983 and 1984. No person or agency was able to coordinate all the organizations sharing the public health responsibility for achieving a safe blood supply." Sens. James Jeffords (R-Vt.), chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and John Edwards (D-N.C.) have spearheaded efforts to compose a compassionate payment bill for HIV-positive people infected through transfusions for the upcoming legislative session, but even advocates say that it will be "an uphill battle for reasons that have more to do with how Congress works than the bill's merits." Still, Jeffords notes, "It would be very, very unfair if ultimately one group was compensated and the other group wasn't" (Kaufman, Washington Post, 1/2).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.