Legislators Discuss Tobacco Settlement, Health And Human Service Agency Operations
AUSTIN - "The goal of the lawsuit against the tobacco industry was to improve the health and lives of Texas citizens. The money (awarded) comes from an industry that has done more damage to the health of Texans than any in our history." - Attorney General Dan Morales.
On Thursday, January 22, Attorney General Dan Morales came before the Senate Interim Committee on Health and Human Services to comment on the state's successful case against the tobacco industry. According to the recent decision, the court ordered several key manufacturers of tobacco products to pay the state of Texas an approximate sum of $15 billion. Approximately $8.5 billion of that sum will reimburse the state's Medicaid program for the thousands of cancer and tobacco-related illnesses Texas taxpayers have had to cover.
Another portion of the proceedings will go towards a permanent health care fund that will ensure all Texans, especially children, increased opportunities for health care and wellness. According to Morales, Texas ranks way below the national average in poverty levels, school dropouts, pregnant teens, youth immunizations, and teen medical coverage.
The committee's Chair, Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, commended Morales for his relentless pursuit of this case and its successful outcome. Zaffirini is the author of a bill passed last session that restricted minors' access to tobacco. The progress of the current implementation of this bill was explained during Thursday's meeting by representatives of the Texas Department of Health and the Office of the Comptroller.
The committee continued its business by receiving progress reports from representatives of several health and human service agencies on other issues. Representatives from the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Department of Human Services, and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission reported the status of recent efforts to reduce fraud and improper payments under state Medicaid and welfare programs and the progress of federal welfare reform.
Members heard progress reports regarding demographic trends of Texas that may impact the health and human services delivery system in the future. This information was provided through testimony from the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Department of Human Services, the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, and the Texas Department on Aging.
Through representatives of Texas' Department of Health and Department of Insurance as well as the Office of the Attorney General, members were briefed on current practices in patient billing by Texas hospitals and providers of health care to evaluate their accuracy, clarity, and timeliness. These discussions were followed by public testimony.
Serving on the committee along with Chair Zaffirini are Senators John Carona of Dallas, Chris Harris of Arlington, Jon Lindsay of Houston, and Frank L. Madla of San Antonio. The committee will report its findings and recommendations to the 76th Legislature which convenes in January of next year.