Child health bill would benefit, and cost, Texas

SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson talks about the bill now making its way through Congress that would boost health care coverage for children.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Texas stands to gain more than any other state from the plan quickly making its way through Congress to boost the number of children who have health insurance. But the measure would also hit thousands of Texans hard in the pocketbook because it’s being paid for with one of the biggest cigarette tax increases in history.

At issue is a plan approved by the House, and pending before the Senate, to boost federal taxes on a pack of cigarettes from 39 cents to $1 to give 4 million more children health insurance.

That would raise the price of a single pack of cigarettes in Texas to around $6.

"As a parent who cares deeply about the health of my two young sons, I can think of few things this Congress could do that would be more important than to see that millions of children receive the kind of healthcare we would want for our own children," said Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, whose district stretches from suburbs south of Fort Worth to east of College Station.

Texas, which has the highest percentage of uninsured children of all the states, should be poised to get the largest share of help through the enhanced State Children’s Health Care Insurance Program. At the same time, Texas has countless smokers, many of whom may be low-income themselves and have a hard time paying the extra 61 cents per pack. . .

Political observers say this bill is moving through so quickly, without the traditional hearings, to give President-elect Barack Obama an early legislative victory.

"Every incoming president wants to have some relatively early and easy victories so people get used to voting their way as more difficult agenda items come up," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "This is the low-hanging fruit."

And this measure could be one small piece to the puzzle of how Obama will improve healthcare in this country, Jillson said.

"The broader agenda item for Obama is some sort of universal access to healthcare," Jillson said. "One of the easiest ways in the short term to start moving toward it is to expand programs already in existence that people feel good about.

"A move to universal access to healthcare will take a year or more," he said. "This is a down payment on that."

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