Big money spent on Montana initiative to fund Medicaid with tobacco tax hike

A Montana initiative to increase the tobacco tax to fund Medicaid expansion is garnering some big spending, the Independent Record reports.

One of the spenders is Altria Client Services, which represents tobacco company Philip Morris. Altria has spent more than $12 million on the campaign against the measure, making this initiative the most expensive Montana ballot initiative in state history, according to the report. The $12 million is also 3.5 times what the initiative's largest supporter, the Montana Hospital Association, has spent on the effort.  

The Montana initiative calls for a $2 tax increase on a pack of cigarettes to pay the state's share of Medicaid expansion costs. It would take effect Jan. 1. The initiative would also increase the tax on snuff, and tax vaping products.

Supporters such as health groups argue the tobacco industry should pay its part for health issues resulting from use of its products and that Medicaid expansion provides crucial coverage for lower-income residents who need it, reports the Independent Record. Opponents contend the initiative is an "unfunded mandate" and that taxpayers will eventually have to shoulder costs if the initiative passes.

Overall, it is estimated the initiative would generate $73 million annually, according to the report. Nearly $30 million would go toward the state's share of Medicaid expansion, and the remaining amount would be designated for other healthcare programs and traditional Medicaid, along with veteran services, tobacco prevention and Montana's general fund, the report states.

Montana lawmakers originally passed Medicaid expansion in 2015, and it covers more than 96,600 Montanans. Lawmakers allowed a sunset date of summer 2019 so they could decide as the date approaches whether Medicaid expansion would continue, change or end, according to the report. Medicaid expansion would be permanent if the tobacco initiative passes.


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