As I write this, our legislators in Washington are trying to figure out how to compromise and move a bill forward that would continue a valuable and laudable program which provides health care to at-risk children in our country.
The bill is entitled State Children’s Health Insurance Program, more commonly known as SCHIP.
You have probably heard something about this on the news or in a newspaper report. It was recently passed by Congress, but vetoed by the President because of concerns that eligibility standards were too liberal.
Most of the politicians and people polled in this country recognize in principle that this program is valuable and needs to be continued. However, not everyone agrees on how much funding should be provided for the program and how many kids should be eligible for this benefit.
The arguments are political and philosophical. This being Washington, DC, that is understandable.
But what is not quite as understandable are the arguments some of our political leaders have been using to question one significant way to fund the program, namely increasing the federal tobacco tax by 61 cents, from 39 cents to a dollar a pack.
These days, when legislation is passed that requires an increase in funding, Congress is supposed to come up with a mechanism to assure that the money is available to pay for the program. This is not unlike what most of us do every day when we decide how to spend our money.
Increasing federal taxes on tobacco products is one way that the legislators decided to fund this bill.
Taxing a product that when used as directed leads to illness, disability and even death is not a new concept. Sounds like common sense to me.
We know that increasing tobacco taxes reduces the consumption of tobacco products. This is a proven benefit, as demonstrated in many states throughout this country.
But, in the unique prism of Washington politics, this is how the argument has been turned on its head by some legislators: If we rely on a tobacco tax to fund this program, and people stop smoking, we will collect fewer taxes, and the revenue won’t be there to continue to fund the program.
Yes, that’s right: In the confusing world of Washington, we could accomplish some good by providing health insurance for kids in need, save lives, and keep people productive.
But our politicians don’t seem to agree that isn’t a good idea.
Huh????? Give me a break!!!
Here is what my colleagues at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network have to say about the impact of increasing the federal tobacco tax:
- We would raise $35 billion over five years that could go to fund SCHIP or similar worthy programs
- We would prevent nearly 1.9 million U.S. children from becoming lifelong tobacco users and would discourage more than 1.4 million adults from continuing their deadly habit.
- The 61-cent tax increase would prevent more than 900,000 smoking-attributable premature deaths, including approximately 590,000 children who would not cut their lives short from tobacco use.
- Over five years, we would reduce health care costs by almost $1 billion (that’s billion with a “b”)
- Over five years, $12 billion would be saved in the Medicaid program. $7 billion of that would go to the federal government, and $5 billion to the states.
So what is wrong with this picture?
It seems pretty straight forward to me that this would be a win-win situation for a whole lot of folks. Arguments against raising the tobacco tax seem disingenuous to me at best, and would be laughable to boot if life and death weren’t involved in this discussion.
Yes, there are those out there who think that smokers have been taxed enough.
I saw a little pad of tear-off sheets at a local supermarket in southern Georgia this past Saturday saying that cigarette smokers don’t mind paying their fair share of taxes, but increasing the federal tobacco tax was too much to accept.
As you might expect, the little display was sponsored by one of the major tobacco companies. Maybe we should ask them to pay for SCHIP.
Like many of you, I don’t like taxes. But sometimes there are circumstances where the pros and cons are so weighted in favor of the common good that it just seems to me to be the right thing to do. Especially when the funds are specifically directed to a deserving program that improves kids’ health and saves their lives.
So, in my opinion, the politicians need to continue their discussions on the merits of various aspects of the program and come to a compromise which will get the bill passed. But the funding is there if they just get past the lame arguments put up as a barrier to improving the health of our country.
Don’t let the funding stand in the way. Increase the tobacco tax, take the money, and for once do some good for everyone.
We should only be successful, and have to struggle to pay for the program if too many people stop smoking.
Wow, now that would be a real shame, wouldn’t it?