LINCOLN — Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning delivered some good news Tuesday for health programs and agencies funded with national tobacco settlement funds.
Bruning announced that Nebraska, along with 16 other states, had reached an agreement with four major tobacco companies. The agreement settles a 10-year dispute over the proper payments under a 1998 legal settlement with the tobacco firms.
The agreement, his office said, means that Nebraska will receive about $18 million in additional funds in 2013 that had been held back during the dispute.
The state will get an extra $4 million to $6 million in the following years that will bolster the state's Health Care Cash Fund, which provided almost $60 million last year for biomedical research, children's health insurance, public health and other health services.
There have been considerable worries about the long-term viability of the health care fund. A key lawmaker called the settlement “excellent news.”
“This gives us some more time, some breathing room, to make some long-term plans for the fund,” said State Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, chairwoman of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee.
That committee recently held a hearing focused on projections that Nebraska was spending more out of the fund than will come in from tobacco companies and investment earnings during the next decade.
Campbell said the new agreement should allow the state to forego, for now, a 5 percent reduction in allocations from the fund.
Bruning, in a press release, said his office has focused its negotiations on maintaining the integrity of that Health Care Cash Fund. The settlement, he said, avoids the uncertainty of costly litigation and the potential loss of the entire annual tobacco settlement payment.
In 1998, the major tobacco companies agreed to pay states more than $200 billion over 25 years to settle lawsuits over the health care costs related to smoking. Over the past decade, there was a dispute over portions of the payments, and some monies were withheld.
The settlement has meant significant money for the states: Nebraska has received approximately $300 million since 2003.
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