Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tobacco Money to Save Hospital; Master Settlement Agreement Public Health Disaster Continues to Play Itself Out

According to an article from a New York WCBS-TV web site, the Nassau County Medical Center is being saved thanks to money from the state tobacco settlement. The state is taking $120 million from expected payments from the tobacco companies and borrowing against it in order to bail out the Medical Center from what last year was a $22 million deficit.

"The Nassau County Legislature has approved a plan to bail out the struggling Nassau University Medical Center with money from tobacco settlements. Officials said the county is owed $300 million over the next 30 years from tobacco settlements. Under the plan, the county will take $120 million now and borrow against it to keep the medical center from closing its doors. The hospital will be required to present a comprehensive spending plan within 60 days to ensure the money is used efficiently. The medical center had a $20 million deficit last year."

The Rest of the Story

Congratulations to the major tobacco companies on another sign of their brilliance in enticing the Attorneys General with enough money and political capital to convince them to sign an agreement (the Master Settlement Agreement) that has now made the County of Nassau dependent on continued tobacco consumption in order to support the medical infrastructure of the county.

Not only is the County dependent upon tobacco consumption for its infrastructure now, but thanks to the fact that it is using the future revenue stream to secure loans, it has now become heavily dependent upon tobacco consumption in New York State for the next 30 years!

Big Tobacco could not have scripted a happier (more favorable) ending to the Master Settlement Agreement saga. If they had sat down and tried to figure out a way to institutionalize tobacco consumption and to find a way to make the states become dependent upon tobacco sales for their economic survival, they could not have come up with a better scheme than this.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing here that the tobacco settlement money should not be used to bail out the Nassau County Medical Center. That is arguably a very good use of the money. The problem is not what is happening with the money now. The problem is what happened in November 1998 when the Attorneys General of 46 states signed this disaster of a "public health" agreement. Its fate was sealed upon their signatures. What we are seeing now is merely the playing out of the fine details of the script whose outlines had already been crafted by the tobacco companies more than 7 years ago.

I don't know whether to call this story a comedy or a horror show. I guess it depends whether you're the one laughing all the way to the bank, or the one trying in vain to convince state legislators to take any substantial actions that seriously threaten cigarette sales in their states.

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