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Bitten by fox, Rep. Bera introduces bill to reduce cost of rabies vaccine

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), alongside Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) left, speaks in Washington, D.C., on May 18, 2022. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation aimed at reducing the cost of the rabies vaccine for uninsured Americans months after a fox bit him as he was walking on Capitol Hill.

“Despite being a fatal disease, rabies is preventable if treated quickly,” Bera said in a statement Wednesday, which is World Rabies Day. “After being bit by a rabid fox, I was fortunate to have access to readily available and low-cost vaccines. But for too many Americans, the costs of treatment would break their banks.”

Bera, a physician, received a regimen of immunoglobulin and rabies shots in April after a fox bit him while he was walking near the Russell Senate Office Building. The lawmaker expected to see a small dog after feeling something lunge at the back of his leg. But when he noticed that it was a fox, he began attacking the animal with an umbrella before it fled in the direction of other Senate buildings.

Fox caught on Capitol grounds and euthanized tests positive for rabies

Animal control officials later caught a fox on the U.S. Capitol grounds after several people, including a Politico journalist, reported sightings, with some saying they’d also been bitten by the animal. It was not immediately known whether the fox that was caught was the one that attacked Bera.

Rabies can be a life-threatening disease. The Affordable Rabies Treatment for Uninsured Act would establish a program to reimburse health-care providers for providing post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to uninsured individuals.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 60,000 Americans receive PEP each year after possibly being exposed to rabies. Vaccine costs for the disease can range from $1,200 to $6,500.

Bera’s bill would allow for program-registered providers to submit claims to the secretary of Health and Human Services that would allow providers to be repaid an amount deemed appropriate for providing post-exposure prophylaxis to uninsured people subject to the availability of appropriations.

“My legislation would seek to reduce the high costs of treatment for uninsured Americans, ensuring that no one has to choose between receiving treatment or not because of high costs,” Bera said. “I encourage all Americans to remain vigilant around wild animals and to seek medical attention if bitten or scratched. Costs should never be a barrier for individuals seeking life-saving treatment.”