Health Care Groups Urge Lawmakers To Pass A Tobacco Tax Increase

Tuesday, April 18th 2017, 6:40 pm

Health care professionals spent the day at the Capitol and lobbied lawmakers to increase the tax on tobacco.  

They say not increasing the tax by $1.50 per pack could have dire consequences.  

“Over a dozen hospitals across the state would have to close, and that’s on top of the four that closed last year,” said Craig Jones with the Oklahoma Hospital Association. “Four out of five hospitals across the state would no longer deliver babies. Nine out of 10 nursing homes would have to close their doors.”

“We will not have skilled nursing facilities in Oklahoma open to serve low income seniors who rely on Medicaid. The only homes left will be those who can serve wealthy, private paying seniors,” Nico Gomez with the Oklahoma Association of Healthcare Providers said. 

Professionals say the situation is already bad with 80 percent of the state’s rural hospitals operating in the red.  

“I’m currently working with seven hospitals in the state of Oklahoma now that are living payroll to payroll,” said accountant Rick Wagoner. “Every week, we decide how we can make payroll this week.”

Last year, medical professionals made similar predictions, the tobacco tax wasn’t passed and they made do.  

“We were talking about upwards to a 25 percent cut last year, and the Legislature found ways where the Oklahoma healthcare authority did not take the cuts that they were talking about,” Jones said. “Even so, we still saw four hospitals close.”

House Democrats have said they would back the tobacco tax, but only if Republicans pass other revenue raising measures like expanding Insure Oklahoma.