New plan for tobacco money
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota on Thursday released a revised plan on how it wants to spend the $412 million it will receive from its 1998 lawsuit settlement with tobacco companies.
The proposal, which the Minnesota Commerce Department must still approve, addresses many of the criticisms leveled against the first proposal, which state regulators rejected in 1999.
"It goes a long, long way toward meeting the goals of the Ventura administration," said Commerce Commissioner Jim Bernstein. "But it's not a done deal. A lot of details have to be worked out."
Under the proposal, called "A Healthier Minnesota," the Eagan-based insurer would:
-- Invest $252 million during the next decade on health improvement and preventive-medicine programs for all Minnesotans.
-- Provide $30 million over a five-year period to an independent foundation, which would use the money to support community clinics across the state.
-- Give $70 million to the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association, a nonprofit organization that provides health insurance to Minnesota residents who cannot obtain individual coverage because of pre-existing chronic medical conditions. The money would help eliminate the organization's expected annual deficit.
-- Distribute $60 million to qualified Blue Cross members who had policies or plans on June 15, 2001. Half of the money would go to individuals and half to businesses, mainly small companies.
"It's a comprehensive effort that focuses on improving the health of all Minnesotans," said Dr. Mark Banks, the company's CEO.
Duane Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, said that "it's quite rare, in this day and age, to celebrate anything around health care." But the three legs in the Blues' plan -- improve health, lower cost and increase preventive medical care -- "make it possible to celebrate today," he said.
Deanna Mills, acting executive director of the Neighborhood Health Care Network, called community clinics the health safety nets for a rapidly growing, widely diverse number of patients.
"However, we suffer from a chronic disease -- a shortage of funds for the past 35 years. This is a dream come true for many of us," Mills said of the proposed $30 million infusion of capital.
"It won't solve all our problems," Mills added, "but it will allow us to do many things we've only dreamed about," such as replacing out-of-date equipment and recruiting more providers.