Health advocates urge Cuomo to fund Medicaid, other health programs with higher tobacco taxes

Photo by Debora Cartagena, courtesy of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Thirty-one public health organizations, including the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, addressed Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter, urging him to maintain funding for Medicaid and other public health programs, suggesting higher taxes on tobacco products as a way to fund them.

Before the COVID-19 crisis began, the state faced a $6 billion budget deficit, with Medicaid spending responsible for about $4 billion of that shortfall. Earlier this year, Cuomo formed the Medicaid Redesign Team with a goal of finding $2.5 billion in state Medicaid savings. 

On April 3, the state budget passed with restructuring to the state’s Medicaid program and hundreds of millions in cuts. However, the restructuring has been delayed until the health crisis is over so that New York can remain eligible for federal aid.

The letter states, “While in the throes of a global health crisis, we should not be defunding programs that reduce the morbidity and mortality of chronic disease and provide critical health care coverage to New York’s most vulnerable residents.”

The groups suggested that a higher tax on tobacco products would raise critical revenue for the state and would be an effective way to curb tobacco use, especially among young people. 

Despite the potential fiscal and public health benefits, New York’s cigarette tax hasn’t changed in 10 years.

The letter proposed increasing the cigarette tax by one dollar per pack, and raising taxes on other tobacco products as well. The money raised from such a tax could lessen the need for cuts to crucial health programs.

“Access to timely and affordable health care is essential to curbing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting the health of all Americans,” the letter said. “More than seven million low-income and disabled children, adults, and seniors rely on New York State’s Medicaid program. Many newly uninsured workers will be looking to Medicaid to allow them to get healthcare if they need it and to protect their families financially if they get sick.”