The message was loud and clear from health groups, advocates and medical providers gathered recently in Merced County - the cost of treating tobacco-related diseases in Medi-Cal cost taxpayers $3.6 billion; therefore voicing strong support on Proposition 56 and urging California voters to vote yes.
“We are generating an invoice for Big Tobacco, an invoice that details the cost we all bear to our healthcare system,” said Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access California, the statewide health consumer advocacy coalition. “We call on Big Tobacco to take responsibility for the cost of their product imposes on the rest of the health care system.”
Health advocates and providers said tobacco place a burden on Medi-Cal, as well as the entire health system and community clinics like Golden Valley Health Centers, which is a Federally Qualified community-based healthcare organization which operates 28 health centers in Merced and Stanislaus Counties, including five school-based health centers, two freestanding women’s health centers, nine dental sites, and two homeless health care programs.
Medi-Cal covers more than one-third of Californians and more than half of Merced County residents – the second highest enrollment rate in the state.
“Medi-Cal is a critical pillar of the health system on which we all rely, yet it remains critically under-funded and significant cuts made during the last recession have yet to be restored,” said Eduardo Villarama, MD, Regional Medical Director for Golden Valley Health Centers.
Wright said they were generating the invoice in the heart of California, where Medi-Cal enrollment is the highest, “to make sure that Big Tobacco is held accountable for these cost.”
Medi-Cal covers more than one-third of Californians and more than half of Merced County residents – the second highest enrollment rate in the state, Wright said.
“The way we can get to reduce this bill and to recoup these cost is Pro. 56,” Wright said.
Prop. 56 would add a $2 per pack user fee on cigarettes and raise the tax on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes containing nicotine.
“The tobacco tax increase is a proven method to prevent youth from ever taking up smoking, saving lives and saving money,” he said. “It would generate about a billion dollars a year to invest in Medi-Cal to improve access to care.”
17,000 California children get hooked on smoking every year
Wright said Big Tobacco has spent billions of dollars in advertising to fund the opposition to Pro. 56 claiming that it would go to “special interests.”
“It is outrageous that they claim that the money from the tobacco tax is going to special interests,” Wright said, adding that the money is going to be reinvested in Medi-Cal to provide health services to low-income Californians across the state including funding for tobacco cessation efforts.
According to Health Access, nearly 17,000 California children get hooked on smoking every year and one-third of them will eventually die from tobacco-related illnesses.
Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in California, and tobacco-related diseases kill more people than car accidents, guns, alcohol, illegal drugs, and AIDS combined, according to Health advocates.
“Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in California, and is the cause of one out of every three cancer deaths,” said Tim Gibbs Senior Director of California Government Relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
The list of the tobacco-related conditions that clinics treat every day include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, stroke, asthma, reproductive effects in women, premature, low birth-weight babies, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis as well as blindness, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.