- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — A plan in the Democrat-controlled legislature to boost health-insurance coverage with a $1-a-pack cigarette tax increase was met with little enthusiasm yesterday.

The House bill calls for roughly $212 million in new tobacco tax money to pay for a dramatic expansion of the number of Maryland adults covered by Medicaid. The plan also would require single adults making more than $40,840 a year to buy insurance or pay state penalties ranging from $500 to $2,000 a year.

The plan also includes $140 million in annual subsidies for small employers to help them provide health coverage for their employees.

Delegate Peter A. Hammen, Baltimore Democrat, said the bill could reduce the number of insured people from roughly 750,000 to roughly 500,000.

But the idea did not go over well with senators and the governor’s office.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Calvert and Prince George’s Democrat, called the idea “fiscally irresponsible” because the budget already needs plugging without starting a new program such as a health care expansion.

“It’s like building an addition on your home when you can’t even afford the mortgage,” he said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, said in December there would be no new taxes this year. O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said yesterday the governor was “not inclined” to back the tax increase.

“It is a declining revenue source,” Mr. Abbruzzese said of tobacco taxes.

If approved, the tax would take effect in July and would double state taxes on a pack of cigarettes from $1 to $2. The tax was last increased in 2002, from 66 cents to $1, to pay for education improvements.

Supporters emphasized the health benefits of the plan, which in some ways resembles a health care reform package approved in Massachusetts. More low-income people would be eligible for Medicaid. Businesses would get a hand in paying for coverage. And people who choose to pay for doctors with cash would have to pay fines to the state.

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