14 Medicaid recipients seek share of tobacco settlement

By Kevin Murphy Special to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel April 24, 1999

Madison, WI -- Fourteen Medicaid recipients filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court Friday seeking a share of the the state's $5.9 billion tobacco settlement to reimburse them for past and future medical costs.

The plaintiffs, including 13 Milwaukee residents, have received treatment for smoking-related illnesses under Medicaid, a program that disburses state and federal funds for the health care costs of low-income and disabled people.

But those who filed the suit are seeking additional compensation out of the state's settlement with the tobacco companies.

Wisconsin was one of the states that sued seven major tobacco companies to recover money it spent for treating the smoking-related illnesses of Medicaid recipients.

According to the lawsuit:

Federal law requires that if the state collects for past or future medical expenses on behalf of Medicaid recipients, the funds recovered are to be divided between the state and federal governments according to the amounts each has paid.

All remaining funds representing past or future medical expenses must be paid to the recipients.

The state's first of the 25 annual installments will be $338 million, which would leave a substantial amount to be divided among the state's estimated 70,000 Medicaid recipients, said attorney John Cabaniss, who filed the suit on behalf of the Medicaid recipients.

"We're not sure of the numbers involved, but the difference between what the state paid and what it will collect is huge," Cabaniss said Friday.

The state has contended that the recipients are not due any money from the settlement because they waived their right to recover past or future medical expenses when they accepted Medicaid funding.

The suit names Gov. Tommy G. Thompson as a lead defendant. Efforts to contact Thompson's office or Attorney General James Doyle were unsuccessful Friday.

Cabaniss filed a similar suit in February in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on behalf of Vera Floyd, an 80-year-old Milwaukee woman who smoked for 37 years, suffered a number of strokes and now remains partially paralyzed. The case is still pending, and a hearing is set for next month.