Cigarette Tax To Help Pay For Healthcare Hits A Wall

Friday, May 20th 2016, 7:03 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

It was a rough week as lawmakers struggle to fill an estimated $1.3 billion budget gap.   A number of bills passed to reduce the deficit. But a cigarette tax, which was a major component in paying for healthcare, is dead. That has a lot of Oklahomans scared.

Wanda Felty wears a four leaf clover necklace. They're special she said, because they're different.

"If you think about it that's my daughter,” said Felty. “So when I wear a four leaf clover, I think of Kayla."

Kayla is mentally challenged, blind, and has a long list of medical problems. On her swing, Kayla doesn't have a worry in the world. But her mom is worried about what healthcare cuts could mean. 

"If Kayla can't see her endocrinologist then she can't keep the medicine that keeps her alive. If I can't get a pharmacy that accepts her Medicaid card and cover her medicine, what…what am I going to do?" Mrs. Felty said.

A key component of healthcare funding, a planned tax on cigarettes is dead. 

“The cigarette tax is not an option at this point,” said Representative Jeff Hickman (R) House Speaker. “The only way the cigarette tax could even be considered would be in special session.”

Democrats refused to back it unless Republicans agreed to accept Obamacare dollars. Neither side would budge.

“The folks in charge who now point their fingers at us and say we need to raise cigarette taxes and without them the whole world is coming to an end it was their obstruction that prevented those important federal resources from coming in,” said Representative Scott Inman (D) House Minority Leader. 

Republicans said they'll find the money.

“The cigarette tax would have allowed us to do that without taking as much money from other agencies to do it.” Hickman said, “So it's going to mean probably some deeper cuts to some other agencies to do that.”

Mrs. Felty said lawmakers don't seem to understand the thousands of lives; the field of four leaf clovers, they're impacting. 

“Honestly, I don't think so,” said Felty. “Or they'd still be working today."