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VCIL Opposes Diverting Tobacco Settlement Funds

April, 26, 2006

Vermonters want health care reform. They want health care financing and sustainable funding for access to health care for those who need it. We have concerns about paying for it but no one denies that access to health care is a critical concern for many Vermonters. At the same time there is a deficit looming in the state’s Medicaid program. This is a strange time for the Governor to propose taking tobacco settlement funds away from health care to use for scholarships. The need for affordable college opportunities for Vermont students is also critical but it should not be addressed by further bankrupting our health care programs.

Many young people and families struggling to pay for a college education are also struggling to get the health care they need.

When the state has budget shortfalls it often looks at health care and long term care and says, “what can we cut to make this program more affordable”? Shall we cut dental care again? Durable medical equipment? Mental health services? Long term care and personal care? Should we increase premiums or co-pays and out of pocket costs for vulnerable Vermonters? Reducing Vermont’s commitment of resources to health care by cutting tobacco settlement funds for these programs furthers the likelihood that Vermonters will face these choices in the years ahead.

Many Vermonters are uninsured or underinsured by insurance plans and benefits that do not adequately address the health and wellness issues of individuals living with chronic conditions and disabilities. These Vermonters need a Vermont health plan that is adequately funded and that works for them. VCIL and VCDR member organizations already know many Vermonters who struggle to get wheelchairs paid for, to get needed physical therapy continued, who are trying to find ways to pay for effective mental health or pain management services, or to pay the significant out of pocket costs for other equipment, treatment, personal care and dental care.

We need to find ways to create useful health care reform and affordable access to health care for all Vermonters, including individuals with disabilities. Raiding the tobacco settlement is a step in the wrong direction, one Vermont cannot afford to take.

Deborah Lisi-Baker is the Executive Director of the Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL), one of the member organizations of the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights.