Tobacco settlement provides $21,064 toward indigent health care costs
Polk County Enterprise, May 2007
LIVINGSTON – Polk County will receive $21,064 to go toward 2006 unreimbursed indigent health care expenditures, according to the State Comptroller’s Office. The funds are distributed each April to Texas communities from the Tobacco Settlement Permanent Trust Account.
Counties, cities and hospital districts receive annual distributions of tobacco settlement money based upon the amount of unreimbursed indigent health care they report to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The Tobacco Settlement Permanent Trust Account, established after the state settled a lawsuit in 1998 against tobacco companies, has grown to a $2.3 billion trust fund. The comptroller manages and oversees the fund, with the guidance of the 11-member Tobacco Settlement Permanent Trust Account Investment Advisory Committee.
“Since 2001, Texas’ settlement with tobacco companies has helped folks who cannot afford health care,” explained State Comptroller Susan Combs. “Tobacco settlement money helps local communities provide access to health care, regardless of patients’ ability to pay.”
Polk County has received a total of $306,106 since the payments began in 2001. Unreimbursed health care during that period cost the county over $7.6 million, according to figures reported to the Texas, although costs have been reduced considerably in recent years due to increased collection efforts on the part of the county.
In 2000 and 2001, for example, Polk County’s unreimbursed health care expenditures totaled over $1.7 and $1.6 million, respectively. This year’s tobacco settle money to Polk County was based on 2006 unreimbursed health care expenses of $483,053.
“I’m just really, really proud of our program,” said Barbara Hayes, who has served as Polk County’s director of indigent care and social services for the past five years. While she is glad unreimbursed expenditures for indigent care have declined substantially, she stressed, “I’m not here for the bottom line; I’m here for the people.” What she is proudest of is the quality of care provided to local citizens. That level of care has drawn praise from the state, she said.
She and her staff work to find programs under which a patient may qualify for benefits, be it Medicaid, SSI or another program. They even help qualified individuals who have trouble covering the cost of medications work with pharmaceutical companies for relief.
She attributes the success of the local program to the cooperation and trust that has been built between the county judge, commissioners’ court, other county officials, the hospital and health care providers. The majority of patients are being served locally, by health care providers in Livingston and Lufkin, according to Hayes.
Unreimbursed health expenditures for counties are defined by the settlement as “all unreimbursed amounts, including unreimbursed jail health care, expended by such county for health care services to the general public during that year, plus 15 percent of that total.”
The initial settlement in the suit against tobacco companies by the State of Texas was $2.3 billion. Of that amount, $450 million was deposited into a lump sum trust account and distributed to local political subdivisions. The remainder, approximately $1.8 billion, was deposited into a permanent trust account from which the county has received a pro-rata distribution annually.
“Because of solid investment performance and prudent oversight, this year’s distribution to local entities increased 15 percent over last year’s distribution,” Combs said. “Since the first distribution of funds in April 2001, local entities have received nearly $288 million from the trust fund.”