Stop social engineering and unconscionable tax increases

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) certainly disguised an enormous case of social engineering in his op-ed in The Hill, “Making the grade on meritorious SCHIP” (July 24).

This national example of social engineering as it relates tobacco products takes the form of legislation passed by the Senate to significantly expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). This popular federal program was enacted in 1997 and provides funds to states to subsidize health insurance coverage for children in low-income families and will expire on Sept. 30.

However, the Senate bill would allow a family of four earning up to $62,000 to be eligible for government subsidized health insurance and would cost $35 billion over five years. To pay for this federalization of health insurance coverage, the Senate proposes a politically motivated and socially engineered massive tax increase on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The Senate bill would raise the federal tax rate on cigarettes, pipe tobacco and chewing tobacco by 156.4 percent and the tax on cigars by 6,000 percent. This same 6,000 percent tax increase if applied to the current 5-cent federal excise tax rate on a can of beer would escalate the tax rate to $3 per can, or $18 per six-pack.

The magnitude of these tax rate increases is unconscionable and has sparked outrage among citizens and retailers alike. In the history of the United States, there has never been such an enormous tax increase on a single product.

President Bush supports a reasonable expansion of the SCHIP program but intends to veto the Senate bill because it goes too far in federalizing health care and includes highly regressive and punitive tax increases. The 2,000 family-owned tobacco retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers that are members of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, plus approximately 45 million Americans who purchase tobacco products, would voice their support for President Bush’s resolve to veto the SCHIP legislation so a more reasonable bill can be negotiated.

Minneapolis


Halt Medicare cuts for medical imaging
From Amy Jensen Cunniffe, senior executive vice president and director, Government Relations Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed); Harvey L. Neiman, M.D., executive director, American College of Radiology; Tim Trysla, executive director, Access to Medical Imaging Coalition; Andrew Whitman, vice president, Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA)

While your Sept. 12 article “Medical imaging executives lobby White House advisers on Medicare payments” provided a balanced overview of many of the problems associated with past and proposed Medicare cuts for medical imaging, we wanted to add a few more points that policymakers should know before voting.

First, we believe that providing patients with access to high quality imaging services should be a top priority for policymakers and healthcare providers alike. No patient in need should be denied the kind of medical imaging technologies that are helping millions of Americans fight more effectively against serious illnesses such as breast, ovarian, cervical, colorectal, lung and prostate cancers, and heart disease.

Second, we recognize that imaging utilization rates have increased over the past decade, and we are committed to working with Congress, the administration and other interested public- and private-sector parties to discover the factors driving the growth and to address over-utilization if it exists. No policy should be enacted until sufficient research has been conducted to accurately pinpoint the problem. Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), and Reps. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), Gene Green (D-Texas) and Phil English (R-Pa.) have introduced legislation that would delay cutting imaging until more facts are known, and we commend these leaders for taking a prudent and thoughtful approach.

Third, we believe that two of the best ways to ensure the appropriate use of imaging services are by having clear guidelines for healthcare professionals to follow and by requiring the proper accreditation for those who work with some of the more complex and sophisticated imaging technologies, such as PET, MRI and CT.

We, the companies that produce some of history’s greatest medical innovations, the physicians who skillfully use them and the patients who benefit from them hope Congress will protect Medicare coverage for imaging to ensure that patients of all ages receive the best possible healthcare.

Washington