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Cigarette Tax Hike Still Leaves Millions of Children Behind in Health Coverage

July 12, 2007

A Senate compromise due Friday is expected to raise the national cigarette tax to provide health coverage for millions of uninsured children. However, the Senate Finance Committee compromise falls $15 billion short of earlier assurances. Elizabeth Swain, chief executive officer of the Community Health Care Association of New York State, says there's good news for some kids, but the federal deal is bad news for the country as a whole, and a burden for New York taxpayers. The loss of that additional funding could come at the expense of much needed mental health care and dental coverage.

“The children in New York state will suffer. However, we live in a state that has made a commitment to an expansion of coverage so that every child in the state of New York will be covered.”

Diana Breen with New York's Children's Defense Fund sees merits to increasing the cigarette tax.

“Increasing the tobacco tax will also generate hundreds of millions of dollars in health care savings because, as we all know, when people don't smoke that saves money later on down the road.”

But Devon Herrick, a health economist for the National Center for Policy Analysis, counters that although he's all for insuring children, taxing smokers isn't the way to do it.

“You think of tobacco tax and of course that falls predominantly on lower-income people. So, in a sense you're asking the poor to finance the health insurance for middle-class families.”

Earlier this year, New York passed legislation bringing health coverage to every uninsured child, meaning lower federal funding will have to come from New York coffers.

Charles Lane/Eric Mack, Public News Service - NY