Signature-gathering to begin on initiative to hike tobacco taxes, extend Medicaid expansion

Posted at 11:54 AM, Apr 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-18 13:54:04-04

A proposed ballot measure that would increase state tobacco taxes and extend Montana’s expanded Medicaid program for 94,000 low-income adults has been approved for signature-gathering.

A coalition of supporters also plans to kick off its campaign Thursday to gather the 25,000-plus signatures of registered voters needed to qualify Initiative 185 for the November ballot.

“We have a short turnaround time for collecting signatures, but I’m super-excited about the energy and the support of this initiative,” said Kristin Page Nei of the American Cancer Society/Cancer Action Network. “I have no doubt that we’re going to be able to qualify this.”

Signatures must be submitted to county election offices by June 22.

I-185, supported by a coalition of health and health-care organizations, would increase state taxes on a pack of cigarettes by $2, from the current $1.70 per pack to $3.70 per pack.

It also increases taxes on other tobacco products, such as moist snuff, and e-cigarette supplies, and would extend Montana’s Medicaid expansion program past next year. Under current law, the Medicaid program is set to expire in July 2019.

Medicaid expansion provides government-funded health coverage for childless adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $16,600 for a single person.

The federal government funds about 95 percent of the program now, but its support declines to 90 percent by 2020. The state must pick up the rest of the cost.

Under I-185, up to $26 million of the revenue from the higher tobacco taxes would go toward the state share of Medicaid expansion. The state share is expected to be more than that amount, once the federal share drops to 90 percent.

Nei said supporters estimate the higher tax would raise about $50 million a year. Language in I-185 directs the rest of the money to a variety of other uses, such as funding tobacco-cessation programs, home- and community-based Medicaid services and health services for military veterans.

“This is just a very important ballot initiative,” she said. “It’s the one on the ballot that can save lives, save money and significantly improve the health of Montana. … We’re going to prevent kids from smoking, help people quit, and that will result in quite a bit of reduction in health-care costs, due to tobacco use.”