La. doctors endorse tobacco tax increase

by Heather Miller

Pediatric group says cigarette tax would deter smoking and help fund health care services. The state's leading pediatric organization says raising cigarette taxes to the national average could potentially save health care services that are on the chopping block to cope with a $1.6 billion state budget shortfall.

The Advocate's Marsha Shuler reported that Stewart Gordon and John Vanchiere, members of the Louisiana Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday that a $1 per pack tax hike on tobacco would raise $350 million and bring the state closer in line with the national average for cigarette taxes - $1.45. Louisiana taxes cigarettes at 36 cents, according to Vanchiere and Gordon.

The doctors also pointed to an "under-funded" health care system for children in the state, which they say will only worsen if Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposed health care reform passes:

Vanchiere said in recent years the per child Medicaid spending has gone from 32 percent above the national average to 28 percent below the national average.

Now the administration wants to privatize Medicaid - the government's health insurance program for the poor - and let insurance companies manage patient care, Vanchiere said.

That plan diverts 15 percent of available health-care dollars for administrative overhead and profits, he said.

Read more on the cigarette tax proposal and children's health care services here.