Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pouring salt in the wound.

Less than a month after adultBasic was terminated funding that would have gone to help pay for the health care program for working Pennsylvanians, instead was diverted to another fund, one run by the governor to dole out loans to business friends.
The governor and Republican legislators who support his budget call it good for job creation, those of us who don’t, call it good news for their friends in big business.

Let me explain. For the past decade adultBasic was partially funded through a portion of the Commonwealth’s tobacco settlement monies, which the state receives as an annual payment from the big tobacco companies. At the time, the Legislature decided that most of those funds should be directed to health-related programs including smoking cessation and health insurance. From 2005 through Feb. 28th of this year, the state’s Blues health care systems were partners in this program as part of their charitable mission (and since they have a $5.5 billion surplus).
The yearly tobacco payment is an estimated $350 million. This year $220 million of that has been earmarked for the Liberty Loan Fund, which by the way combines funds from 5 other pre-existing loan programs, all controlled by the governor and maybe his supreme decider, DCED Secretary Walker.
The governor and those who support his proposal will argue that a portion of the tobacco settlement funds are still going to health care… yeah less than 25%.
Some argue this diversion may not even be legal, as the Tobacco Settlement Act of 2001 mandated that payments be distributed in specific portions:
·         8 percent deposited to an endowment account for the future
·         30 percent for adultBasic and Medicaid for workers with disabilities
·         18 percent for health research
·         13 percent for home- and community-based services for the elderly
·         12 percent for tobacco prevention and cessation programs
·         10 percent to reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care
·         8 percent to expand the PACENET prescription drug program
·         1 percent for cancer research
Nowhere in the list is a percentage for the “Liberty Loan Fund.”
In the past there have been diversions of tobacco monies to cover budget obligations, but not to create a slush fund for the governor’s friends in the business community and not at the expense of 42,000 working Pennsylvanians. This is reprehensible for people who lost their affordable health care this month, and is another example of a gimmick in the budget that was supposedly gimmick-free.
Here is one more glimpse at the governor’s idea of a “must have” Liberty slush fund, versus a “nice-to-have” health care for working Pennsylvanians.