Ventura County's share of the tobacco lawsuit settlement is public money that should be used by county governments to lighten the taxpayer load. Some argue that this money should be spent solely on health care, but it could also be argued that it already has been. Allowing various agencies to use the money would simply reimburse local government for decades of care provided to indigent patients with tobacco-related illnesses.
Let me be perfectly clear: The states flied suit against the tobacco industry; the counties are agents of the state that provide medical care for indigent persons. The private hospitals neither initiated nor paid for the litigation. Perhaps more important, the private hospitals are not accountable to the public for their spending.
Private hospitals are different from other businesses and should not merely turn people away. For this reason, they provide some modicum of care to indigent persons--minor emergency room treatments or, for major incidents, stabilizing care before transferring the poor and uninsured patients to the county hospital. (If Ventura County Medical Center transfers cardiac patients to one of the private hospitals for care, that hospital is compensated by the county for its services.)
I am not against private hospitals getting remuneration for some or all confirmed indigent care, but I am against handing over public money to private business without any oversight or even confirmation of actual expenditures.
Rather than trying to grab all of the tobacco money, the private hospitals could track how much they spent each year on indigent care and present these those figures to the county for reimbursement.
Most private hospitals in Ventura County have nonprofit status. This saves them millions of dollars in property taxes and allows them other breaks subsidized by the public. These private hospitals should provide some pro bono work in return for this nonprofit status.
Given that most of these private hospitals are already subsidized through their nonprofit status, it is a slap in the face for taxpayers that they now try to wrest this money from the control of our elected, publicly accountable county supervisors.
Every tobacco settlement dollar under county control is a dollar that will not be cut from some necessary public service. Using this money to pay for the health-related Medicare fines is not out of line. The fines levied on the county (the taxpayers), by the federal government (the same taxpayers) only hurts local taxpayers and the people who are in need of the programs this money could have provided.