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Oregon Seeks Tobacco Tax to Fund Children’s Health

While the U.S Congress struggles to revise a state health insurance bill covering low-income children, Oregon officials are planning their own solution, with a proposed increase in tobacco taxes to cover children's health care costs. The NewsHour reports on Oregon's proposal.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Now, raising tobacco taxes to pay for children's health care. As Congress and the White House sparred over the issue, Oregon residents are voting on a similar plan in their state. Correspondent Lee Hochberg of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.

  • LEE HOCHBERG, NewsHour Correspondent:

    Five-year old Ethan Russell wasn't letting his asthma ruin a perfect autumn day.

  • ETHAN RUSSELL, Asthma Sufferer:

    I can go super fast with these long legs!

  • LEE HOCHBERG:

    But his parents, Lisa and David, watched him warily. For two years, the Salem couple has been unable to afford, on David's truck driver salary, the $700 per month needed to pay for health insurance for Ethan and his brother. Ethan's asthma makes that especially risky.

  • LISA RUSSELL, Parent:

    What if he has an asthma attack and it's so bad that we can't keep him home? We don't want to think about it. I mean, it's scary to think about. When he goes to the hospital for his asthma, it's days on end. I mean, we would be talking about thousands and thousands of dollars.

  • LEE HOCHBERG:

    The family spent $5,000 of their $40,000 annual income last year on treatments to prevent any attacks.

  • ETHAN RUSSELL:

    One time, I hurt in my — I felt something in the back of my lungs. And then it'd go away, but it makes me cough, and I cough a lot.

  • AD NARRATOR:

    Ethan Russell has asthma. His lungs close up, and he struggles to breathe. But his family…

  • LEE HOCHBERG:

    The family has let Ethan be used as the poster child for statewide ballot Measure 50, which would increase the tobacco tax to fund health care for 114,000 uninsured Oregon children. Supporters unveiled a new commercial last week.

  • AD NARRATOR:

    Join over 80 groups in helping Ethan and all of Oregon's kids. Yes on 50.

  • LEE HOCHBERG:

    Oregon medical, child, business and labor advocates all are campaigning for the statewide measure.

  • LISA RUSSELL:

    There's got to be a middle ground where it's affordable, because Ethan needs it.

  • LEE HOCHBERG:

    Oregon's measure would assess a new 85-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes, raising $152 million in the next two years for children's health insurance. To qualify, families would have to earn under 200 percent of the federal poverty level, about $41,000 for a family of four. It would also fund health care for 10,000 low-income adults.

    Portland physician Dr. Alison Mitchell says, for children, access to health care is crucial.

  • DR. ALISON MITCHELL, Family Practitioner:

    You see children with developmental delay because it's not picked up early and they don't get the treatment that they need. You see children with chronic cough, where it turns out and it's asthma, something fairly simple to treat, if they had insurance to cover their medications and for regular medical visits. You see children who are not getting their vaccinations because their families are limited as to access and they can't come in.

  • CAMPAIGNER:

    Have you voted yet?

  • OREGON VOTER:

    No. I'm going to vote for it, but I don't know all the details, actually.