* Voters decided two years ago, by passing Proposition 99, to support federal tobacco settlement dollars being spent on health care. Recent California Medical Assn. polls show that voters still feel that way. But voters certainly do not need yet another ballot measure that would divert funds--albeit not yet dedicated to any specific programs or departments--to one or more private hospitals.
That is why Community Memorial Hospital's proposed voter initiative concerns us. An initiative sets in stone how the money will be spent and by whom. The county needs, instead, flexibility that will work decades down the road.
This ballot initiative, put forward by Michael D. Bakst, Community Memorial's executive director, offers no provisions for spending this money on mental health programs or non-acute, preventive health care.
Ventura County supervisors have expressed a desire to spend the money on health care. We very much want the patients, physicians and hospitals to benefit appropriately.
The Ventura County Medical Society proposes the following to the Board of Supervisors:
* Allocate a fixed percentage of the annual tobacco settlement to private hospitals to pay for the uncompensated care they render.
* Apportion another amount to support the Ventura County Medical Center and the county clinic system, which offer an important safety net. In spite of the opinion of Community Memorial Hospital, we cannot afford to let it flounder.
* Finally, reserve some of the settlement money to pay private physicians who provide uncompensated care. Many physicians are close to losing their practices because of low reimbursement rates, yet they continue to provide care to their patients when they need it.
We invite the Board of Supervisors to work with the medical society and the local hospitals--including Bakst--to arrive at a plan for the use of the tobacco funds that will foster better health care for all of Ventura County.
MICHAEL B. HUFF, MD
Ventura County Medical Society