Thursday, July 7, 2016
Outbreak Victims Could Get $50,000 Each
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Though most will get less, victims of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak could be eligible for payments of up to $50,000 apiece under a federally funded victims compensation fund, now that a dispute over the fund's use has been resolved.
The funding stream finally opened up Thursday following an intensive lobbying campaign spearheaded by victims of the outbreak and members of congress led by U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, a Michigan Republican whose district counted 15 lives lost in the deadly outbreak.
U.S. Justice Department officials confirmed Thursday that they agreed to free up as much as $40 million for outbreak victims. The money will come from a fund maintained by DOJ's Office for Victims of Crimes from fines, penalties and assessments imposed upon defendants convicted of federal crimes.
According to DOJ officials the money will be channeled through Massachusetts's Attorney General Maura Healey's office. The state agency must first formally apply to DOJ for the funds, agency officials said.
It will be up to Healey's office to determine eligibility standards for the awards, according to those familiar with the program. Justice Department officials said they would be working closely with Healey's staff to implement the awards program.
Healey did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under Massachusetts law victims may be eligible to receive a maximum of $50,000 if they suffered "catastrophic injuries," which is defined as an injury that creates a permanent impairment.
The decision to free up the money came after a review of the history of the outbreak which sickened 778 patients in 20 states, killing 77 of them.
State and federal regulators concluded that the outbreak was caused by fungus loaded steroids (methylprednisolone acetate) shipped to hospitals and clinics across the country by the now defunct New England Compounding Center.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the NECC case is the largest public health crisis caused by a drug in the country's history.
Fourteen owners and employees of NECC were indicted on charges ranging from racketeering and second degree murder to mail and wire fraud following a lengthy federal grand jury investigation. All have entered not guilty pleas and none have gone to trial.
As Bishop noted in announcing the fund allotment, most victims have yet to receive any compensation even though the outbreak occurred nearly four years ago.
Although $200 million has been placed in a fund created under the NECC bankruptcy, none of that money has yet gone to victims. In addition victims still face claims from the Medicare program and insurance companies for reimbursement of health care costs previously paid.
Attorneys contacted Thursday said it was unclear whether similar claims could be lodged against any awards from the victims' compensation fund.
Victims expressed elation yesterday when they learned DOJ had allotted the $40 million.
"It's nice to know our voices were heard. Hopefully this will come to fruition," wrote one of the victims.
"Since I heard this I can't stop crying! A true voice for the victims has finally been heard! Amen and hallelujah!" wrote Jona Angst, another victim.