Public being left out of ‘public health trust fund’

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 6, 2001

The state’s tobacco trust fund money — all 650 million or soodd dollars of it — has been in the news in recent days.

I am among the many Mississippians who do not understand exactlyhow the trust fund works, but this is what I do know:

In 1994, Attorney General Mike Moore sued the tobacco industryon behalf of the state of Mississippi. Moore was hoping the statecould win back some of the public funds used to treat sicksmokers.

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Moore won, or at least the tobacco industry decided to surrenderand settle. They agreed to pay Mississippi $4 billion over 25years.

The state legislature officially set up the trust fund in 1999,and every year the tobacco industry deposits a big wad of moneyinto it. This year’s payment is supposed to be about $210 million.The fund’s principal should hit $1 billion in the next two years,the attorney general said recently.

That’s what I know about the fund — what I read in thenewspaper.

New attention was put on the trust fund when Gov. RonnieMusgrove announced last week at the Neshoba County Fair that hewould like to see it restructured. He wants some of the futureearnings diverted to pay for other things. This would allow somebudget shuffling that could lead to pay raises for employees atstate agencies, colleges and universities.

Apparently the governor’s proposal isn’t sitting well with someother state officials, including Moore.

“It’s too early to say no, but there’s nothing in here to makeme say yes,” the attorney general told the Associated Press. “I’mjust very reluctant to invade the public health trust fund. Onceyou start spending, you’re liable to spend every penny of it.”

Four words in Moore’s comment stand out to me — publichealth trust fund.

One of the things I don’t understand about the trust fund iswhere the public part comes in. Have you benefited fromthe fund? I haven’t, at least not that I can tell. I had to pay formy flu shot last fall.

Has the average Mississippian — the public –benefited from the trust fund? They should. It’s the averageMississippians — the taxpayers — who’ve been laying out money allthese years to treat those sick smokers.

I think the governor’s idea is a good one. Why not restructurethe fund to spread some of the money around — to help thepublic?

Why can’t some of the money be used to help our elderly citizenspay for prescription drugs? Many, who worked hard and paid taxesfor most of their adult lives, are denied the benefits of Medicaidbecause their monthly income is too much — sometimes just a fewdollars too much. Medicare doesn’t pay for medicine.

Why can’t some of the money be used to help those of us who havemedical insurance but are faced with ever-rising premiums, highdeductibles and hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses?

I don’t have the answers. Maybe if the governor, the lieutenantgovernor, the attorney general and house speaker would worktogether they could figure it out.

With $650 million in the bank, and more on the way, I don’tunderstand why any Mississippian with insurance should have tospend one thin dime for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

I’m not saying the state should provide free medical care. I’msaying those who work hard, pay taxes and contribute to the good ofthis state should have the care they need without going intopersonal debt.

I’d settle for a free flu shot.

Personal Note: Thanks to all who expressedtheir concern after reading last week’s column. Pam Hall Robertsdied on Sunday, July 29. She was 46.

Write to Nanette Laster at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, MS39602; or send email to