Kinder suggests tobacco legal fees could pay for prescription program
A legislative leader says a new state prescription drug program for older people could be partially funded with legal fees that private lawyers get for representing Missouri in the national tobacco case.
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said Thursday that he planned to prepare legislation to use some of the lawyers' fees to help fund a new drug subsidy program "for at least a couple of years."
"We hope to come up with a workable plan," Kinder said. "We are looking at how to do it in a way that it will fit."
Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, plans to call a special session this fall to rewrite the program that gives financial assistance to the elderly poor who face drug bills. Holden's new Prescription Drug Task Force, charged with coming up with a new system, held its first meeting Thursday.
Holden said he would oppose using legal fees from the tobacco case for anything, including prescription drugs. To do otherwise, he said, "would jeopardize the revenue we are getting from the tobacco settlement."
Kinder, who is a lawyer, tried to cap the tobacco lawyers' legal fees at $500 per hour during the Legislature's session. He wanted to use the balance of the money to pay for schools or highways. Kinder was unsuccessful.
Opponents said there was no legal way for the state to intercept the millions that would go to the lawyers. They said that if Kinder's bill passed, the legal fees would come from the state's share of the tobacco settlement.
The state has received $338 million from the tobacco settlement so far. Current estimates are that the state will get $4.5 billion over the next 25 years. Missouri's private law firms have yet to be paid from the tobacco case. Under the settlement, the tobacco companies pay the lawyers directly. Arbitration awards in other states show Missouri's lawyers may get as much as $100 million.
Holden told the task force Thursday that he supported a new prescription drug program that would keep people from choosing between paying for food or paying for drugs. He said the state could afford a program with a $50 million price tag that would be funded jointly by general revenue and the tobacco settlement. Holden said the program was needed quickly to replace the current $200-per-person plan that was originally expected to cost $20 million and so far has cost $90 million.
The task force's next meeting is at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Alexius Hospital, 3933 South Broadway.