Oklahoma - increase moist snuff tax, raise money, recruit more rural physicians..

April 12, 2011 - An interesting and novel revenue-raising measure that would help place doctors in underserved areas of the state is pending in the Legislature. While Senate Bill 233 isn't a perfect solution to addressing the state's physician shortage, it would help in the short run, as well as the long run. And it might be the most palatable way to tap into a new revenue source. We believe it should advance.

The bill would increase the state tax on moist snuff, which is one of several forms of smokeless tobacco. The measure would eliminate the existing 20 percent tax on moist snuff and replace it with a $1.20 per ounce tax. An estimated $8 million to $9 million a year would be raised that would be directed to the Physician Manpower Training Commission, which would use the funds to attract primary care physicians to parts of the state that don't have enough doctors.

The higher tax is attractive on several levels. Higher taxes on tobacco products are proven to help bring down consumption. More primary care doctors in underserved areas obviously would help address chronic and costly health problems in those communities.

Texas has had considerable success in placing doctors in needed areas through a similar program.

But as we said, it's not a perfect solution. Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, is a physician who predictably supports such programs, but he opposes this particular measure, calling it a "great quick fix" that locks in taxes on a dangerous product.

He'd like a feature that would ensure future adjustments for inflation - a great idea but politically questionable at this time.

One novel feature of SB 233 is that if lawmakers don't approve it by the necessary 75 percent supermajorities in each chamber, then it automatically becomes a referendum that would be decided in a statewide vote. That's a nifty approach that could just about ensure passage.

Given this state's long-festering health ills, lawmakers owe it to their constituents to advance any measure that could help address them.

Reference: Tax hike on moist snuff would help physician recruitment by World's Editorial Writers, Tulsa World, 4/12/2011.