Beebe unveils healthcare initiative | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Beebe unveils healthcare initiative

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2009 at 2:41 PM

This morning Gov. Beebe's team unveiled his health care initiative, including further information about a proposed 56-cent tax hike on cigarettes. Bottom line: the governor estimates new tobacco taxes will bring in more than the $71 million figure he cited to reporters last week. He now calculates revenues of $85.4 million in fiscal year 2010 and $85.8 million in 2011. Along with matched funds, the governor's numbers predict $177.9 million available for healthcare in 2010 and $175.3 million available in 2011.

About a quarter of the spending would go to a statewide trauma system. Other major spending would go to Community Health Centers and an expansion of the ARKids program.

A couple of caveats, though: the figures include an estimated $10 million annually from an increased tax on smokeless tobacco. But proposals for how the chaw tax is to be raised remain fuzzy.

Moreover, the package is contingent on lawmakers' support for the new taxes. The general tone of a committee hearing on the package today was somewhat skeptical: questions were raised about the implications of further government involvement in healthcare, though Dr. Joe Thompson, the state's chief health officer, attempted to smooth over the concerns. And some legislators have discussed means other than a cigarette tax to fund the trauma system.

Still, Beebe has cleverly framed the issue in order to get the money he wants. A no to a higher tax on a harmful product will mean a no to the health of Arkansans. Will lawmakers be willing to give that answer? Time will tell.

(A longer version of this story is posted at The Legislative Beat.)

PS -- In a chat at the Times today, Sen. Gilbert Baker, who opposes the cigarette tax, nonetheless predicted the governor would pass it. He noted a scarcity of lobbying so far by tobacco companies.

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