Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wagner: Use Tobacco Payments for Original Purpose

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner says the General Assembly should stop diverting money from a tobacco lawsuit settlement away from health programs.

Wagner held a series of hearings on the use of Tobacco Settlement Act revenue, and he says the public wants it to be used for health-related purposes.

In 2001, tobacco companies were required to pay $350 million in annual compensation for public health problems caused by smoking. Governor Tom Ridge and the legislature decided that money should be used to fund programs for smoking cessation and prevention.

But Wagner says in the past six years, the funds have been put toward gaps in the budget rather than used for their intended purpose. He says smoking cessation and prevention programs have seen funding drop about $35 million per year and should be fully funded.

Wagner says the money could also be used to reinstate adultBasic state health insurance.

“It’s not in existence today; it ended in February of this year,” says Wagner. “We think it should be reinstituted, so that 42,000 Pennsylvanians can get basic health care; so that colon cancer can be detected, breast cancer, prostate cancer; so that these cancers don’t develop into serious health problems and serious public cost issues.”

The use of the settlement funds will be decided in the budget process.

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