Governor Brad Henry proposes 52-cent net cigarette tax increase

Tuesday, January 27th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Brad Henry called Tuesday for a net cigarette tax increase of 52 cents per pack to expand health care coverage, build a cancer research center and improve the state trauma system.

The cigarette tax plan, which would raise $130 million, would require a vote of the people.

Under it, the tax actually would be increased from 23 cents to $1, but state and city sales taxes of about 25 1/2 cents per pack would be removed, leaving the increase at about 52 cents. The calculation is based on a $3 pack of cigarettes.

``In Oklahoma today, we are in a health care crisis,'' Henry said at a news conference in an emergency room at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center.

He referred to statistics showing 20 percent of Oklahomans have no health insurance and typically wait to the last moment to get high-cost care at emergency rooms, driving up insurance costs for everyone else.

Under his ambitious plan, about $100 million would be leveraged with federal funds to produce about $400 million to provide health care coverage to an estimated 200,000 uninsured Oklahomans.

``If we can help the uninsured get coverage, we can cut costs for everyone and help reduce the fastest growing cost for businesses and consumers,'' Henry said.

Tom Adelson, secretary of health, said the fact that a third of Oklahomans are either uninsured or underinsured has caused cost-shifting that has raised health care costs to everyone else by about 30 percent, higher than most other states.

He said Henry's plan provides ``desperately needed aid to a health care system that is buckling.''

Under the plan, the state would offer eligible citizens health care coverage through premium assistance to employers and direct purchase of basic health care coverage.

By providing premium assistance to employers, the program seeks to encourage businesses to offer or continue health insurance coverage for their employees.

``Everyone is a winner in this program,'' Henry said. ``Oklahomans who currently have no coverage get access to affordable insurance and better health care opportunities. Businesses and consumers, meanwhile, would see their health care costs decline as the number of insured Oklahomans grows.''