Minnesota is the only state with plans to earmark at least a portion of tobacco settlement money for specific health programs, what state Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III calls "the most comprehensive anti-smoking program the world has ever seen."
But Humphrey's plan to expand that program has run into opposition from a Legislature intent on returning the proceeds to taxpayers.
Last week, Humphrey detailed plans he has submitted to Ramsey County (Minn.) District Court to turn over $202 million of Minnesota's $6.1 billion tobacco settlement to a new not-for-profit organization, the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco. The plan meets the requirement of the settlement that 3% of the proceeds go for anti-smoking programs.
The partnership would control two accounts. One would be funded with $102 million due from the tobacco industry in December and would pay for programs for Minnesotans seeking to quit smoking. The other would receive $10 million from settlement proceeds in each of the next 10 years, for a total of $100 million, to pay for national research into tobacco control.
But Humphrey wants to go much further, proposing that the Legislature create a $650 million trust fund with tobacco money and give the interest to the partnership, to be used to prevent youth smoking and to provide health insurance for children.
Not everyone shares his enthusiasm. "It seems the proceeds from this settlement ought to go to taxpayers to reduce their tax burdens and not to create new programs for government," says House Minority Leader Steve Sviggum, a Republican from Kenyon.
No smoking, eh? Canada may be about to find out whether cigarette package warnings are ever going to give smokers pause about what they are doing to themselves.
Health officials in Ottawa are considering forcing tobacco companies to run a skull-and-crossbones warning label on all cigarette packs. Yes, the same warning label that's on hazardous substances such as bleach.
Murray Kaiserman, co-ordinator of research at Health Canada's office of tobacco control, says the hazard symbol is "on the table" as bureaucrats ponder the need for stronger warnings.
Canada currently has stark, black-and-white warnings more prominent than U.S. labels, but those have lost their punch, Kaiserman says. "The next step is to add a bit more information" on the specific diseases likely to result from prolonged use.
Nonpartisan, shnonpartisan. The insurance lobby, not content with sabotaging every effort at healthcare reform, now is setting out to make sure its members are registered to vote.
Last week the American Council of Life Insurance, the American Insurance Association and the Health Insurance Association of America launched a voter registration proj-ect called "Insure Democracy 1998."
The program is designed to register insurance company workers to vote.
"The purpose of `Insure Democracy' is to help our member companies get their employees involved in the electoral process," says Carroll Campbell, president of the ACLI. Campbell formerly served in the House and was governor of South Carolina.
The three groups, all of which are heavily aligned with congressional Republicans, say the program will be nonpartisan.
The graying of nursing academia. Nursing schools, worried there won't be enough faculty to meet future demand, are encouraging students to advance more quickly through academic ranks.
The average age of nursing doctorate recipients in 1996 was 45, compared with 34 in all fields and 38 in the health sciences, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The issue could become critical as demand for registered nurses is expected to outstrip supply by 2010.
According to the association, policymakers increasingly question whether to award research funds to investigators who earn doctorates in their 40s because they likely have fewer years of active research than younger students.
Young grads often are lured by high-paying jobs at clinical sites and research firms, and it's tough to bring them back into academia.
Cuomo's lament. Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo tossed in his 2 cents on managed care, Viagra, and his mother at the American Health Lawyers Association's annual meeting in San Diego last month.
Cuomo, who began his legal career representing New York's Victory Memorial Hospital and Long Island College Hospital, decried what he called the "sanctification of popularity" clouding Congress' healthcare debate.
"If it's popular, they (Congress) are going to do it," Cuomo said, referring to such efforts as the patient bill of rights. "Having the ability to sue HMOs could lead to higher costs for the HMOs, and that means fewer people will be insured, and that means higher costs for the government."
However, he added: "Managed care . . . will not be the perfect answer because the market is not the whole answer."
Cuomo told the group of 1,200 attorneys that "we the lawyers should be making the case for change" in the healthcare system.
"Mama always said you should put needs before wants," he said. "Twelve years of working on the (New York state) budget, and I forgot that."
Cuomo also railed against Viagra, the popular new impotence drug produced by Pfizer. "Pharmaceutical companies are very good at inventing new products and making us believe that we need them," he said.
Corporate memorabilia. It's not exactly in the same league as Beenie Babies, but CareAmerica Health Plans paraphernalia apparently has a cult following.
Items sporting the company logo have been slowly phased out since the buyout of Woodland Hills, Calif.-based CareAmerica by Blue Shield of California last year. Yet leftover CareAmerica visors, coffee mugs and over novelty items-mostly remainders from charitable events-were snapped up at a sale to employees last month.
"They were standing five or six deep at the tables, trying to buy whatever they could get their hands on," says CareAmerica spokesman Ross Goldberg.
Although the items sold for only a few dollars apiece, the sale grossed more than $1,700, which was donated to various charities.