Oregon voters sent Congress a message on Tuesday when they voted down a new cigarette tax to pay for children’s health insurance. The vote was 60% against and 40% in favor of funding the so-called Healthy Kids Plan.
Measure 50 would have locked an 84.5 cent per pack increase into the Oregon Constitution to fully fund health insurance for children in families up to 200% of the federal poverty level. It would have partially subsidized insurance for kids in families from 200% to 300% of the poverty level.
Voters apparently weren’t willing to saddle just smokers with the cost of this expensive new government program, and they didn’t buy claims that a declining revenue source could cover rising health insurance premiums for very long.
Oregon U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer said before the vote that passage would be “a shot in the arm” for federal SCHIP efforts that aim to expand a similar health care program in which states get federal tobacco tax money to provide children’s health insurance.
On the flip side, Oregon’s Democratic Governor Kulongoski warned, “If you can defeat it here in Oregon, you send a chilling message to the rest of the country.”
Well, it was soundly defeated here in liberal-leaning Oregon. The resultant chill of federal SCHIP efforts will hopefully encourage consumer-driven health care advocates to redouble our efforts.
Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank.