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Review urged for tobacco money

| Friday, Jan. 28, 2005

HARRISBURG -- House Republicans have welcomed a proposal by Democratic Whip Mike Veon to re-examine how Pennsylvania will spend billions of dollars from the national tobacco settlement.

The Beaver Falls lawmaker on Thursday called for opening a 4-year-old state law to set new priorities for how Pennsylvania's tobacco money is allocated for health care programs.

"It definitely is time to look at it," said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, who sets the House agenda. "We're thinking along the same lines."

Smith has made health care a top priority for the 2005-06 session.

Pennsylvania this year will spend about $375 million from the tobacco settlement on health programs. The fund is used to pay for an array of programs from research grants and anti-smoking programs to low-cost drugs for senior citizens.

Veon said the General Assembly should have more flexibility to expand health insurance coverage for senior citizens and low-income Pennsylvanians.

The state will receive an estimated $11 billion through 2025 from the national tobacco settlement. The 1998 agreement between 46 states and the tobacco industry is intended to repay state governments for the money spent treating the tobacco-related illnesses of Medicaid patients. The amount Pennsylvania receives from the settlement varies each year.

"While Pennsylvania is one of the few states in the nation actually using all of its tobacco settlement funding for health care as it was intended, the way we spend that money is out of date," Veon said.

Said Miskin: "He's right. Some of it is outdated."

Erik Arneson, chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill, R-Lebanon County, said Senate Republicans want to evaluate how the money has been spent but rejected the "ridiculous assertion" that a law passed with bipartisan support less than four years ago is now out of date.

Still, Arneson said Senate Republicans will consider re-opening the law.

Many Republican senators have raised the issue of whether smoking prevention money is being spent effectively, Arneson said. That could be an area in which Republicans want to make adjustments, he said.

Additional Information:

New tricks for old law

House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, of Beaver Falls, wants to open a four-year-old state law to set new priorities for how Pennsylvania's tobacco settlement money is allocated for health care programs.

Veon's proposal calls for:

  • Shifting money from expensive advertising campaigns that urge smokers to quit and using it for local anti-smoking programs.

  • Establishing a recruitment and training program for rural physicians.

  • Creating a program to maintain health insurance for retirees when a company goes bankrupt or cancels insurance coverage.

  • Expanding a program that helps hospitals reduce medical errors.

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