Public health advocates blast LePage plan to redirect tobacco settlement money

Health care advocates packed a State House hearing Monday to protest Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to take $10 million a year in tobacco settlement money from the Fund for a Healthy Maine and shift it to primary care doctors.

While the Fund for a Healthy Maine pays for several public health efforts – including anti-obesity, substance abuse and child care – critics said LePage’s plan would have a particularly devastating effect on anti-smoking programs. 

Representing the American Lung Association, MaineHealth, the Maine Public Health Association and other prominent health industry backers, Healthy Maine supporters held a news conference and testified at a public hearing before the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees.

LePage’s 2016-18 biennial state budget would redirect $10 million a year from the Fund for a Healthy Maine to maintain reimbursement rates for primary care physicians under MaineCare, the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program. Federal reimbursement rates are scheduled to decline next year for many MaineCare physicians under a sunset provision in the Affordable Care Act, but the administration’s budget proposes keeping the rates steady by tapping into Healthy Maine.

But health care advocates say the budget sets up a “false choice,” and they accuse the state of raiding Healthy Maine, which is funded from the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies.

“The two issues are minimally connected,” said Dr. Stephen DiGiovanni, a pediatrician at Maine Medical Center’s outpatient clinics. “You need a smoking cessation and prevention message coming from a variety of different sources, from parents, the schools, at parks, where you live, not just from your doctor.”

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