Maine Governor Weighs Cigarette Tax Increase to Curb Health Care Costs
Maine Gov. Angus King (I) announced on Nov. 27 that he will consider seeking a further increase in cigarettes taxes in light of a report showing that health care costs threaten to overburden the state, the AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports. According to Maine's Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Care, Maine's annual health care cost, currently $4.7 billion, is "increasing faster than the rate of inflation, and could [reach] $9 billion by 2010." The report cites "unhealthy living habits," such as weight problems, smoking and a lack of exercise," as contributing to the rising costs. "A lot of the problem is within our individual control," King said, adding, "The low, hanging fruit of health care cost cutting is we, as individuals, taking better care of ourselves." To that end, King is weighing a recommendation made earlier this month by the Alliance for a Healthy New England, a group of doctors and public health advocates, that cigarettes taxes be increased 50 cents per pack across New England. King, who helped double state cigarette taxes from 37 cents per pack to 74 cents a pack in 1997, said the 50 cent proposal was "on the high side," but "it's certainly something we're going to look at," as he is "convinced that prevention of smoking and other bad habits are a key to lowering health care costs." While Maine's $4,000 per person annual cost of health care is in line with the national average, King said "the overall state burden will soon become too much to bear if it keeps growing." He concluded, "We're headed for a time when it can't be business as usual" (AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 11/28).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.