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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Cecile Bledsoe

LITTLE ROCK -- The Arkansas Tobacco Settlement Commission distributes funds to seven public health programs. According to an independent evaluation, they're meeting an overwhelming majority of their goals.

The independent evaluation was by a team from the University of Central Arkansas at Conway. In its most recent report to the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor, the UCA team found that the seven programs had met, or were making progress toward meeting, 78 of 80 "indicator" goals.

One of the unmet goals was in the Medicaid Expansion Program paid for with tobacco settlement money. According to the independent evaluators, in late 2018 there was a slight decrease in the number of people getting coverage for hospital care under the program.

The other unmet goal was in the UAMS East Regional Campus program for assistance with paying for prescription medicines.

It was unmet because the program was discontinued for lack of need for its services, due to the availability of prescription drug coverage under the national Affordable Care Act. For that reason, future evaluation teams will no longer measure the UAMS programs effectiveness in reaching the "indicator" goal.

In 2000, the legislature created the Tobacco Settlement Commission and the programs it administers. Arkansas and other states had settled a lawsuit against major tobacco companies, in which the states sought compensation for the costs of treating illnesses caused by smoking.

Unlike those of many other states, Arkansas legislators decided to use all of the state's share of the tobacco settlement to pay for health-related programs, as well as anti-smoking efforts.

For example, the UAMS East Campus and the Minority Health Initiative provided health screenings for 8,543 Arkansans at health fairs and wellness events where they work.

A portion of the tobacco settlement revenue pays for Medicaid coverage for people who otherwise may not have qualified. Last year 259 people with development disabilities were helped with Medicaid funding paid by the settlement. In all, 7,083 people received Medicaid services paid for by the tobacco settlement. They include pregnant women, senior citizens and eligible adults.

Settlement revenues pay for research at the UAMS College of Public Health, such as how to prevent and treat birth defects. Revenues also pay for 206 research projects at the Arkansas Biosciences Institute, which combines teams from Arkansas State University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and UAMS.

Settlement revenue pays for geriatric care provided by the UAMS Center on Aging, which is working to improve the quality of life and expand the availability of health care of the growing number of seniors in rural areas. The program helps elderly people plan healthier diets, understand the effects of dementia, control their blood pressure and manage diabetes, among other services.

The settlement revenue also funds a Prevention and Cessation Program, with the goal of reducing the number of Arkansans who smoke or use tobacco. To measure its successfulness, the program set the baseline as 2013, when 32 percent of young people smoked or used tobacco products. According to its surveys, that rate has decreased to 26.2% in 2015 and to 23.1% in 2017.

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Editor's note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.

Editorial on 06/12/2019

Print Headline: Tobacco settlement funds go to health programs

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