What Jim Gerlach Wants You to Know About the Flu Tax

Read his lips: No new taxes.

The flu tax is a hot topic on the Internet. A Google search shows hundreds of publications, blogs and TV stations have picked up the story about two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, that include a 75-cent tax per shot on the flu vaccine. I wrote about the flu tax because one of the sponsors of the House bill is local Rep Jim Gerlach.

The Congressman is not happy at all about what I wrote. I know because he sent out a press release featuring me as the antagonist.

Why the personal attention? Because nothing is more damning to a Republican going into a mid-term election than feeling accused of proposing a “new”  tax increase. In fact, this is not a “new” tax, nor does it create an increase in revenue. The Congressman made that abundantly clear in his personalized press release, which I promised I would include in its entirety. Promise kept.  My reaction follows.

Kori Walter, Press Secretary April 25, 2013
610-594-1415 or 610-223-1767 (cell)
Mendte wrong about flu tax

Exton (PA) – Please consider publishing the following response from Congressman Jim Gerlach (PA-6th District):
Columnist Larry Mendte crossed the line from opinionated television news reader to fiction writer with his rant about legislation I have co-sponsored that would ensure the public continues to have access to the most effective and affordable flu shots.

Mendte simply made things up about how this legislation would work.

My legislation does not create any new taxes. The legislation does not raise tax rates. And there’s absolutely no evidence that flu shots will cost one penny more if this bipartisan bill, which unanimously passed the Senate, becomes law.

In fact, the non-partisan number crunchers at the Joint Committee on Taxation analyzed the legislation and concluded there would be no new taxes and no windfall for the federal government.

That’s because under current law, 75 cents goes into a fund known as the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program every time someone gets a flu shot or any number of vaccines used to protect the public against all kinds of diseases.

This fund was set up in 1986 to shield doctors, nurses, life-sciences companies and other health professionals
from trial lawyers more interested in chasing jackpot jury awards than protecting and improving the public’s health.

The truth is that every one of the estimated 135 million Americans who got flu shots this year – one of the worst flu seasons in years – paid 75 cents into the fund.

Know how much you’d pay for each shot if the legislation I support becomes law? The same 75 cents you pay now. Not a penny more.

The only way the federal government will collect more money next flu season is if a greater number of people voluntarily opt to be vaccinated – a goal that Mr. Mendte advocates. No one’s adding misery to misery.

So why pass this legislation?

Because new strains of flu are emerging rapidly and medical researchers are developing new vaccines to keep up with the latest health threats.

In December, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new four-strain flu vaccine. However, this four-strain vaccine will probably sit on a shelf rather than be made available to the public without adding it to list of vaccines covered by the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Without the fund’s liability protections, trial lawyers get a free pass to haul everyone from the worker who ships the vaccine from the warehouse to the family physician who sticks the needle in your arm into a courtroom for a costly legal battle.

Maybe Mr. Mendte thinks we’d be better off keeping the four-strain flu shots out of reach of the public and watching our children and grandparents rack up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills while lying in a hospital bed with severe flu complications.

I do not think that’s the right thing to do and believe anyone who takes the time to sort fact from fiction will agree.

Congressman Jim Gerlach
West Pikeland Township, Chester County

Now let’s go through some of the inaccuracies in the press release above.
1. I am not an “opinionated television news reader.” I am a television commentator, the opinionated part is implied. Unlike many famous national politicians, I don’t use or need a teleprompter when giving my opinions. When I am live on the set and when I am out in the field to deliver my commentaries, I do use a script that I write, not one that a press secretary writes for me.
2. I never called the flu tax a “new tax.”
3. I didn’t “make things up as to how this legislation would work.”
4. And finally, I don’t think “we’d be better off keeping the four-strain flu shots out of the reach of the public” or “watching our children and grandparents rack up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills while lying in a hospital bed with severe flu complications.”

I love the last one because the Congressman accuses me of fiction and then lays on the kind of ridiculous hyperbole that we are used to hearing in these mindless House debates. “I guess my good friend and esteemed colleague from the great state of Maine would just like to see children and puppies die in the street.”

Although I never claimed this was a new tax, I did have that impression, because it was reported over and over in the digital echo chamber that is the Internet. I traced the original reporting to The Weekly Standard, which was the first to give the impression that the tax was “new” and not just an extension of an existing tax to cover a new flu strain.

The rest of the reporting about the Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund and its surplus is solid. Which raises questions as to why we still need to tax at 75 cents? Why low-income and elderly people can’t be exempt? And there is a debate to have over whether the government should be in the business of setting up compensation funds with taxpayer money to limit the liability of doctor’s, vaccine makers and insurance companies.

Perhaps we can go into those issues in another post, but I’ve already gone too long, and I don’t want to be accused of wishing the four-strained flu on your children and grandparents again.