3 health groups offer plan for tobacco funds
PHOENIX - The state's three main public health groups want $25 million a year from the tobacco settlement for health education and screening.
Matt Madonna, president of the Arizona Chapter of the American Cancer Society, said Arizona now spends about $4 million a year - about a dollar for each resident - to prevent and detect the state's top four killers: cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke and pulmonary disease.
That, he said, is far too little to make a meaningful difference.
The plan, also backed by the American Heart Association and American Lung Association, would earmark 25 percent of the state settlement for grants for prevention and early detection of diseases. Arizona is supposed to get about $3 billion over 25 years.
The groups' proposal faces an uphill fight at the Capitol, where lawmakers have their own ideas on how to divide the windfall from the national settlement of lawsuits against the tobacco industry.
Sen. Sue Grace, the Phoenix Republican who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said she believes the legislative priority will be to use funds to provide insurance coverage for the ``working poor.''
These people earn too much to qualify for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's indigent health care program. But they are in jobs where no health insurance is provided and are being paid too little to afford their own coverage.
Grace said another priority will be providing health care in rural areas that have been hurt by the lack of health maintenance organizations outside the state's two major metropolitan areas. Only if there is money left over, she said, does prevention become a priority.
House Speaker Jeff Groscost, meanwhile, wants some funds for education.
Under the plan pushed by Madonna, organizations would compete for funds for new or expanded programs.
For example, he said, fire departments could seek money for teaching cardiopulmonary resuscitation, with the idea that more people knowing CPR would mean fewer deaths from heart attacks. Programs to encourage women to have early mammography or colo-rectal cancer exams also would pay off, Madonna said, as it is far cheaper and more successful to treat these diseases early.
Madonna acknowledged that the American Cancer Society already does some of these kinds of programs and would be eligible for funding.
He said bias would be eliminated because funds would be granted by an independent commission. That commission, though, would be required to earmark its funds for the diseases that kill most Arizonans.
Legislative plans for the tobacco money are only part of the opposition the three health groups face.
The Arizona Hospital Association is spearheading an initiative drive to divide up the settlement among various programs. That plan earmarks some of the funds for early detection and prevention of heart and lung disease.
A competing initiative would place most - if not all - of the money into expanding AHCCCS.