Articles on Michigan and Mississippi follow:

State Dems eye tobacco windfall for senior drugs

By Linda Angelo
April, 6, 1999

Myrtle Underwood, 73, knows what it is like to need medication and not have the money to buy it. Sometimes the Flint senior citizen has gone months without getting her prescription for diabetes refilled at the pharmacy.

"I feel a lot better when my sugar is down," Underwood said. "When I wouldn't have (the pills), it would go high. I would go into a reaction, and it's a mess. I feel jittery, I get nervous and shaky."

Underwood recently qualified for assistance through the Michigan Emergency Prescription Program for Seniors, which gives vouchers for free prescriptions to qualified seniors who meet income specifications.

But the maximum assistance seniors can receive under the program is three monthly prescription vouchers per year. The current year runs through Sept. 30, 1999.

Underwood received her third voucher in February and now faces the same problem: coming up with at least $200 per month to pay for her diabetes, cholesterol and arthritis medications.

State House Democrats have proposed using a portion of the state's $8.5-billion share of the national settlement with tobacco companies to double funding - from $20 million to $40 million annually - for the senior prescription program.

It also would increase the number of vouchers given per year. The money is compensation for Michigan's share of Medicaid costs due to tobacco-related illnesses.

A House Democratic task force will hold a series of hearings this month to find out how people want to spend the settlement money over the next 25 years.

Democrats have proposed splitting the tobacco settlement between public health programs, public education programs and the remainder for college scholarships.

Republican Gov. John M. Engler, however,wants to use most of the tobacco settlement to pay for college scholarships for students who perform well on state high school tests. And Republicans hold the House and Senate majority.

Engler spokesman John Truscott said the settlement money may go to multiple programs, but the governor's scholarship proposal will get first priority.

While the plan to increase funding to senior prescription programs may look good on the surface, Truscott said closer examination is needed.

"We have to see convincing evidence that there's a need," he said. "There's lots of insurance programs (already) out there. We're not just going to throw money at issues - we want to show it can be effective."

State Rep. Jack D. Minore, a Flint Democrat who will sit on the task force, said increasing funding for the senior prescription program is worth considering.

Of the one-third proposed for improving public health, 20 percent would go toward increasing the funding for the senior prescription program.

"For a small percentage of people, it's a huge problem," Minore said. "For most people, it's not a huge problem but for some...people with particular diseases where prescriptions are a high cost, the cost of prescriptions is a problem."

After Underwood received her third voucher in February, she switched insurance companies to one that offered a $5 co-pay for prescriptions. For others who have used up all of their vouchers, the transition hasn't been as easy.

"I have to cut back on other bills to try to get my prescriptions done," said Emma Woodson, 86, of Flint.

There are 20 sites that issue free prescription vouchers in Genesee, Lapeer and Shiawassee counties.

To qualify, individuals must be at least 65. The income cap for single people is $1,006 a month with prescription drug expenses at least 10 percent of their income.

For couples, the income threshold is $1,356 a month with prescriptions accounting for at least 8 percent of their income.

At the Davison Senior Center, nearly 30 seniors received help through the prescription program last year, said director Christine Kautz. She said some heart medications cost at least $100 per month.

"I think it's a matter of life or death for some of these seniors," she said. "Some of them tell me they will cut down a pill once in a while to try to make it to the end of the month, which is sometimes very costly, not financially, but to their health."

Journal staff writer David Miller contributed to this report.

Linda Angelo covers politics. She may be reached at (810) 766-6340 or by e-mail at

Copyright 1999 Michigan Live Inc.

Board to decide future of tobacco settlement

April 7, 1999
The Biloxi Sun Herald.

JACKSON - After the fanfare dies down from Mississippi becoming the first state to put tobacco lawsuit winnings into a trust fund for health care, the technical work begins with investment strategy and the hiring of consultants.

The trust fund law was signed by Gov. Kirk Fordice last week and took effect immediately.

There has been no change yet in the status of the money the state has received so far from the $4 billion settlement.

A board created to oversee the money will begin work after the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker make appointments. State Treasurer Marshall Bennett, who will be chairman the board, said the Legislature laid the groundwork for a solid future for the money.

"It's an excellent way to handle money, instead of flying by the seat of your pants, shooting from the hip. It's a methodical way to do it. That's what you want is stability in finance," Bennett said Tuesday.

The Mississippi Legislature ended a three-month session April 1 and the trust fund was promoted as the first of its kind in the nation and one of the biggest accomplishments of the year in Mississippi.

The state had been the first to file suit against cigarette makers in 1994 to recoup tax money spent treating people for smoking related illnesses. Attorney General Mike Moore, who filed the lawsuit and negotiated the settlement, will also serve on the board.

"The people of Mississippi can expect to have a trust fund to take care of health care forever and ever," said Moore. "It's touching people's lives already. You're helping poor people, you're helping children, you're helping senior citizens. That's what I had hoped for."

Legislators will spend interest from the trust fund in future years, though the principal can be dipped into for a variety of reasons. About $50 million will be spent in the next year on things like trauma care and eyeglasses for Medicaid recipients.

Rep. Jim Barnett, the only physician in the Legislature, said tobacco companies will ensure poor children get insurance and more elderly can afford medicines.

"It is with a great deal of satisfaction that I see the tobacco companies pay for what they have cost the state," said Barnett, D-Brookhaven. "I think Mississippians can feel confident about the future of health care. Those who need it most will benefit."

Bennett said the trust fund had widespread public support.

"Everywhere I've been I've brought up the subject and overwhelmingly the response has been 'set up a trust fund, don't spend it recklessly, we don't want to be wild and crazy with it.' That's what the Legislature responded to,'' said Bennett.

Fordice has five choices to the board that will oversee investments and all must have financial backgrounds. The picks of the lieutenant governor and speaker will be nonvoting members with an interest in health care.

Bennett said the governor will have the hardest time because conflict of interest laws prohibit the appointees or their employers from doing any work for the board. He said that would apply to many bank employees and other financial experts.

"That'll be a task trying to find those people," said Bennett, who believes the governor may need to look at retirees.

Fordice press secretary Robbie Wilbur said his office "does not have any timetable" for making choices.

"We're trying to find some good people. Hopefully that will be done as soon as possible," he said.

So far the state has more than $290 million from cigarette makers. Bennett said $150 million is in bank CDs that will mature in July and the board will decide then what to do with that money. The remainder is handled by fixed income managers in things like U.S. treasury and corporate bonds, according to Bennett.

Bennett said once the board is established they must hire consultants and managers to handle various areas. He said the board will hear presentations from finalists for the available posts.

At the soonest, he said, the board could be at work in three months.