TOBACCO SETTLEMENT: Industry, Legislators Press Davis to Use Funds for Health Care
State Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana), a former trial lawyer who sued the tobacco industry, is spearheading an effort to convince Gov. Gray Davis to devote the state's tobacco settlement windfall to health-related issues, such as expanding coverage for the uninsured. The Orange County Register reports that "[o]ver the past several weeks, he has quietly convened a coalition of nearly two dozen health care groups whose lobbyists have in turn started buttonholing lawmakers" (Weintraub, 5/25). Dunn said, "We are at a unique point in the history of California. With the money from the tobacco settlement, we can address many of the ... health care problems we now face." At the behest of Dunn and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) "[m]ore than two dozen health care industry lobbyists converged at the Capitol on Tuesday to demand that" Davis funnel the settlement money to health-related uses. Burton suggested using some of the money, among other health-related initiatives such as anti- smoking programs, for tax cuts for companies that offer health insurance -- "a gesture aimed at attracting Republican support." He said, "California can be a beacon for this nation. California has the opportunity to be first in the nation in health care programs." Davis has said he intends to put the state's annual $562 million payout into the general fund (Morain, Los Angeles Times, 5/26). Davis spokesperson Sandy Harrison said, "His top priorities are education and establishing a prudent reserve and giving a fair deal to state employees." But Dunn said, "We need to have a hands off policy with this money. The only debate each year should be how in the health care field these dollars should be distributed" (Register, 5/25).
Only the Beginning
And should he get his wish, the Times notes, that debate is exactly what he will get. Paul Knepprath of the American Lung Association of California said anti-smoking programs should receive 15% of the pool, or $75 million per year (5/26). Doctors and hospitals, meanwhile, "want to be paid for care they now provide to the poor for free or at minimal cost." Others want to retrofit hospitals to updated seismic standards. Advocates for the poor want to broaden the eligibility requirements for Medi-Cal, and allow parents of Healthy Families-eligible children to also qualify for subsidized insurance. Steve Thompson, lobbyist for the California Medical Association, said, "Will there be competition for this money? Sure. There is competition for every dollar in the state budget. But you can't even compete over what our health care priorities should be if there's no funds available to do it" (Orange County Register, 5/25).