Health division needs staff to handle tobacco money

Despite assurances they could do the job without new funding, the state Health Division on Thursday told lawmakers it needs $1.6 million to run the tobacco-funded Senior Prescription Drug Program.

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, complained that legislators were promised Health could do the job without dipping into the money for more staff.

But Division of Human Resources Director Charlotte Crawford said it isn't possible to get the prescription program on line without at least two-and-a-quarter staff positions.

But with that staffing, she promised the senior prescription program would be up and running before the end of the year.

"We will be able to have senior prescription benefits available in October," she said.

Prescription drugs for seniors is a keystone of the health programs to be funded by Nevada's estimated $45 million a year share of the tobacco settlement.

Crawford originally asked for those positions, an auditor, a grants analyst and another auditor next year but legislative leaders joined by Budget Director Perry Comeaux and Crawford held a closed door meeting in Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio's office to discuss it.

After that Crawford agreed to at least postpone everything except the prescriptions program staff for now and one auditor to be hired next year.

The other problem lawmakers ran into was that the Interim Finance Committee doesn't have the authority to make that kind of addition to the tobacco money program without approval from the whole Legislature.

So the panel voted to approve the spending contingent on it receiving the approval from the Task Force for a Healthy Nevada. The task force has the authority to make grants from the tobacco money to different health agencies and groups.

Giunchigliani put it on the record that she believes the decision is dangerous and that other agencies should not try to use it as a precedent.

"We'll have to deal with it next session," said Raggio, R-Reno.


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