Health insurance in Kansas
Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and state Sen. Jim Barnett - opponents in the 2006 gubernatorial election - joined forces Thursday to push for health care proposals that include a 50-cent-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax.
"I will be campaigning for this, urging people to do it, twisting arms to do it," Sebelius said.
Appearing at a news conference with Sebelius, Barnett, R-Emporia, pledged his support, saying, "It's the right thing to do."
When lawmakers convene the legislative session Monday, one of the main issues will be health care. Approximately 300,000 Kansans have no health insurance.
The Kansas Health Policy Authority has produced 21 recommendations that it says will improve Kansans' health and make insurance more affordable and the system more efficient. The package would cost an estimated $227 million over five years and has support from dozens of health organizations.
One of the more high-profile proposals is an increase on the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products. The state tax on a pack of cigarettes is 79 cents. The proposal would increase that to $1.29.
Sebelius said an increase in the cigarette tax benefits the state by providing more revenue to combat illness, much of which is related to smoking. And she said the increased price discourages young people from smoking and, in the long run, reduces health care costs.
Barnett said the tax increase will be a "tough sell" in the Legislature, especially during an election year, but added the proposal would gain greater political traction if Kansans are guaranteed the funds will go toward health care.
He said the time is ripe in Kansas and nationally to reform the health care system. But in the give and take of the Legislature, the recommendations may be changed - and some may be approved this year and some later.
"This is not the last year. This is just one of many years of health care reform that we will deal with in the Kansas Legislature. So, let's get everything we can done this session, and then we come back next year," he said.
But state Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said the tax increase was necessary to expand coverage.
"I hope that we don't take the chicken way out and vote on the good stuff and let the hard stuff, voting for a tax increase, go away," Kelly said.