Medical professionals are facing 25-percent cuts in Medicaid provider rates because of the budget crisis. So they are backing the tobacco tax to help reduce those cuts. Otherwise, they say, hospitals and nursing homes will have to reduce services or close all together.
"Further cuts to us would result in program closures and services that we would have to shut down. Significant access points for care have already been reduced because of these previous reductions," said John Hayes, OU Children’s Hospital.
"We have four crisis units. Last night every crisis bed was full. Any additional reductions will cause us to reduce our crisis beds. At that point people's lives are in danger,” said Steve Norwood, Red Rock Behavior Health.
Backers of the proposed tobacco tax say the benefits would be two fold; it would increase revenue for healthcare while reducing smoking. But opponents say the tax revenue would decrease over time as people quit smoking, and it would likely force Oklahomans to buy their smokes in other states.
"I think it's a dwindling revenue stream. I think it puts Oklahoma way out in front on the tax compared to other states. And a 15-dollar tax per carton and if you're a smoker that's probably going to drive a lot of people to alternative places to buy their cigarettes,” said Senator Brian (R) Speaker Pro Tempore.
News 9 is hearing there is more and more support for the tobacco tax in the legislature, but there still might not enough votes to have the measure pass. Either way, lawmakers assure us there will not be 25-percent cuts to Medicaid provider rates.