Health Policy

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Trump Administration Urges Court to Uphold Medicaid Work Requirement

This week, the Trump Administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court urging it to support an Arkansas program requiring some able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work.

 

Under the Arkansas Works program, individuals newly eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, must meet certain work requirements. These include engaging in work or work-related activities for 80 hours a month. Only those in the Medicaid expansion population – able-bodied adults without children who are between 18 and 62 – face this requirement. There are also exceptions for people who are unable to work.

 

While the Department of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama had not approved Arkansas’s work requirement (or similar requirements in other states), the Trump Administration did. However, federal judges have blocked many of these requirements from going into effect. The Trump Administration’s legal filing urges the Supreme Court to overturn these rulings.

 

The legal issues center on whether federal law permits states to add a work requirement to Medicaid recipients. Medicaid is funded in part by the federal government, but states opt into it and have some leeway to design their programs. The Trump Administration and states say that states have the authority to require work for some able-bodied recipients, but courts have ruled that Congress must amend the program to allow this.

 

Supporters of work requirements argue that they are helping Medicaid recipients by giving them an incentive to go to work, where they may be able to obtain private health insurance eventually. They also argue that childless, able-bodied adults -- the group covered by the work requirement -- should be working. Opponents, however, see these requirements as a way to limit participating in Medicaid, noting that 18,000 people lost eligibility once Arkansas put its requirement in place. They also contend that the work verification rules under Arkansas Works are too difficult for many to comply with.

 

Do you support requiring able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work or seek work?

Oklahoma Voters Approve Medicaid Expansion

Voters in Oklahoma cast their ballots yesterday, and by a very narrow margin approved an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.

 

With a 1% margin of victory, voters supported State Question 802. This ballot measure amends the Oklahoma constitution to provide Medicaid coverage for more lower-income state residents. Medicaid is a joint federal-state health coverage program. Under the Affordable Care Act, states could provide coverage for lower-income adults without disabilities who did not have children.

 

Medicaid expansion has been a controversial topic in many states, especially ones where Republicans have the majority in the legislature. These states have largely been reluctant to expand the program, fearing long-run costs. Skeptics of expansion note that while the federal government funds 90% of the new enrollees, it still leaves state with a financial burden that will grow over time. They argue that health policy should be focused on placing people on private insurance, not enrolling them in a government program.

 

Backers of expansion counter that Medicaid expansion is an effective way of helping those who cannot afford insurance. They say that it will save lives and reduce the use of emergency rooms. In some states where legislators refuse to vote in favor of expanding Medicaid, these advocates have gone directly to voters through ballot initiatives.

 

These ballot initiatives have been successful in Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, and Utah. Oklahoma’s expansion is different, however, since the initiative amends the state constitution, while the other states have only amended statutes. A constitutional amendment change prevents legislators from reversing the outcome or changing the program eligibility.

 

Do you support extending Medicaid coverage to able-bodied adults who have no children?

States, Counties Mandating Masks to Battle Coronavirus

From Washington to Florida, governments across the nation are mandating that residents wear masks in public to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

 

As governors ease shutdown requirements that were aimed at stopping coronavirus cases from climbing, they are considering other ways to stop the pandemic. In some states and counties with cases that are climbing, the answer they are settling on is mandatory mask wearing in public. With rising coronavirus infections in Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee this week mandated mask use statewide. Those refusing to wear masks in public could face a misdemeanor charge.

 

Officials say that as people return to more densely-packed places, social distancing and mask-wearing can help prevent the coronavirus’s spread. They point to studies indicating that widespread use of masks help keeps coronavirus cases at bay. While medical experts were mixed on the efficacy of masks early in the coronavirus crisis, most now embrace them as a useful way to be safe in public.

 

These mask mandates have met with opposition, however. Critics contend that it is government overreach to require masks. They say that people should be free to wear them, but not forced to do so by the government.

 

Some governors have considered a mask mandate but are so far refusing calls to impose one. Idaho has a lower coronavirus rate than many states, but with the relaxation of a shutdown imposed by Gov. Brad Little, cases are rising. Gov. Little is urging state residents to wear masks, but told reporters that he is unlikely to require their use.

 

Do you think wearing face masks in public should be mandatory?

Trump Administration Reverses Obama-Era Gender Identity Rule

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rewrote an Obama-era regulation that expanded the definition of “sex” under federal anti-discrimination law. The effect of this rule change is to remove protections for transgender individuals in health insurance purchases, but the Trump Administration says this is just a return to the original meaning of the law.

 

The regulation affects nondiscrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. This law prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against individuals on the basis of, among other things, “sex.” This language is similar to language in other federal anti-discrimination laws. In 2016, the Obama Administration issued a rule that expanded the protections under that law to include gender identity.

 

At the time, this move was controversial. Those opposed to it argued that it reversed the meaning of federal anti-discrimination rules. These critics pointed out that the protection of sex under federal law never protected individuals who went through a gender transition. However, the Obama Administration said that gender identity was an integral part of someone’s sex, so their expanded interpretation was legally valid.

 

The Trump Administration re-wrote the 2016 regulation to return its definition of “sex” to the earlier understanding of what the law meant. HHS officials argued that this was necessary to reverse the Obama Administration’s overreach. They argue that if Congress wants to protect transgender individuals from discrimination, Congress should write the law to reflect this, not use executive branch authority to change the law.

 

HHS action has come under fire from many people, however. They say the Trump Administration of reversing important protections for transgender individuals. They accuse the administration of anti-transgender bias, and have vowed to fight the rule change in court.

 

Do you think that federal laws banning sex discrimination also ban discrimination against transgender individuals?

High Court Considers Birth Control Mandate

The legal fight over the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate continues at the Supreme Court today.

 

When enacted, the ACA included a mandate that insurance companies offer no-cost birth control. Some employers objected to this mandate, arguing that they had religious objections to some forms of birth control. They said that they should not have to pay for insurance that then provides a service they find morally objectionable.

 

There were various legal cases filed about this mandate, culminating in a 2014 Supreme Court decision affirming that some companies did not have to provide such insurance. In 2017, the Trump Administration went further, expanding this exception to include more companies. This administrative change is what is at issue in today’s Supreme Court arguments.

 

Pennsylvania is suing the Trump Administration, alleging that it exceeded its authority in granting more businesses an exception to the law. The state also alleges that the administration did not follow federal law in promulgating the rule.

 

At the heart of the argument is the idea, embodied in the ACA, that birth control should be widely available to individuals at no cost. Supporters say this is a good way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and it an essential part of women’s health care. Opponents to this idea have a variety of arguments. Some people point to their religious objection to providing birth control to others, especially types of birth control that they see as being no different than abortion. Others argue that if people want to use birth control, they should pay for it themselves, especially since it is widely available and not very expensive.

 

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments and ask questions remotely over video conference.

 

Do you think that the government should mandate that businesses provide no-cost birth control to their employees through insurance?

President Trump Declares Coronavirus Emergency

Today President Trump declared a national emergency to deal with the spread of the coronavirus.

 

In a news conference, President Trump said he had signed an emergency declaration that is aimed at allowing better coordination to combat the coronavirus. Doing this allows the federal government to distribute up to $50 billion in emergency funding to state and local governments. The president has also allowed a relaxation of federal rules regarding health care workers in an attempt to provide them with more flexibility.

 

This emergency declaration follows criticism from Democrats in Congress and in state offices that the president had downplayed the risk of the coronavirus. They have urged the federal government to do more to combat the crisis. The president has pushed back, saying he is taking steps that are appropriate for the level of the pandemic.

 

Congress is also working on legislation to address the economic fallout from the virus’s spread. States have begun shutting down school systems and taking other steps to restrict public gatherings. Many businesses are closing, too. There is bipartisan agreement that something needs to be done to help the economy, but there is still disagreement on what the details should be.

 

Do you support declaring a national emergency over the coronavirus?

Republicans, Democrats Fight over Coronavirus Legislation

House Democrats have unveiled a coronavirus aid bill and are pushing for a quick vote. Republicans, however, disagree that the measures in this bill are the best way to deal with the pandemic’s effects.

 

The House Democrats are proposing a variety of initiatives to deal with the coronavirus fallout. These include:

  • $2 billion for state unemployment programs
  • $1 billion in spending on nutrition
  • Medicaid expansion
  • A federal sick-leave program for those affected by business closures

 

Republicans in the House said that they would not vote to support such measures. They want to see relief legislation more along the lines of what President Trump proposed, which included payroll tax cuts.

 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is negotiating with White House officials on a bipartisan relief package. Their hope is that they can come up with legislation that is acceptable to both sides. If this occurs, it would likely include both spending increases as favored by the Democrats and tax cuts as favored by the Republicans.

 

The House is scheduled to vote Friday on whatever relief legislation emerges.


What do you think should be in coronavirus relief legislation?

Congress Passes $8.3 Billion Coronavirus Bill

Acting quickly and in a bipartisan manner, both houses of Congress passed legislation this week to provide money aimed at combatting the spread of the Coronavirus.

 

With the House of Representatives voting 415-2 and the Senate voting 96-1, members of Congress sent a $8.3 billion spending bill to President Trump. The money in this legislation will be used for vaccine development and use, prevention activities, preparedness for the virus, and for federal response if the virus spreads widely.

 

There was little opposition to this legislation in either the House or the Senate. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) offered an amendment to cut funding from international programs to offset the new spending in this bill. By a vote of 81-15, senators tabled, or killed, the amendment. Sen. Paul was the only senator to vote against the final version of the bill.

 

President Trump had requested $2.5 billion in emergency spending for the Coronavirus. Members of Congress in both parties said this amount was too low, and they worked together to craft a much larger spending bill. The president has indicated that even though he did not initially propose as much money, he would sign this higher funding amount.

 

Do you support spending $8.3 billion to combat the Coronavirus? Should funding for international programs have been cut to pay for this new spending?

House to Vote on Flavored Tobacco Ban

Vaping has been under attack in Washington, D.C., and state capitals recently. This week, the House of Representatives will take another shot at vaping and the tobacco industry when it considers a bill that would ban flavored tobacco products.

 

This is how VoteSpotter describes HR 2339, sponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ):

 

To ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including vaping products and chewing tobacco. The bill also bans the sale over the Internet of tobacco and vaping products and mandates graphic warnings on cigarettes, among other things.

 

Those who support this bill contend that flavored vaping liquid is used to hook children on tobacco, leading to health problems. They say that the tobacco industry uses flavored tobacco products as a way to lure kids into an addictive habit. They argue that banning these products will reduce youth smoking.

 

Opponents, however, point to studies that indicate that adults use flavored vaping products as a way to quit smoking. They say that this ban will harm efforts to move people from cigarettes to vaping. They point out that vaping is far less harmful to one’s health than smoking, so this bill will actually hurt public health.

 

Over the past year, states have enacted bans on vaping products in response to concerns over the health effects of this practice. Congress also inserted a provision into the annual spending bill that increases the smoking age from 18 to 21. This legislation is a continuation of those efforts.

 

Do you think that the federal government should ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, such as flavored vaping liquid?

House Voices its Disapproval of Trump Medicaid Policy

House Democrats do not like what the changes being made to Medicaid by Trump Administration. They approved a resolution this week to disapprove of Trump’s Medicaid policy, but it does not have any force in law.

 

House Resolution 826 claims that “the President has waged an unrelenting war on Medicaid, making it easier for States to take coverage away and create barriers for re-enrollment.” The resolution cites different actions taken by the Trump Administration which are aimed at reshaping Medicaid. These include a proposal to block grant Medicaid for states, which would give them more flexibility in return for a capped amount of funding; allowing states to impose new requirements on enrollment; and proposing cuts to the program in the president’s annual budget.

 

Medicaid is a federal program that provides health care for low-income individuals. States can decide to participate in the program. To do so, states must share in the Medicaid’s costs and adhere to federal rules in how the program is administered.

 

President Trump and supporters of these proposals say they want to allow states to innovate in Medicaid delivery. They argue that federal flexibility will help states improve the program while also targeting it to those who truly need health care. Opponents say that these proposals are ways to cut the safety net for Americans who need health care. They say the Trump Administration is simply trying to reduce the use of Medicaid.

 

This resolution passed the House by a vote of 223-190. No Republicans voted in favor of it, while one Democrat voted against it.

 

Do you support block granting Medicaid? Should states be able to place work requirements and other restrictions on Medicaid recipients?

Colorado Looks to Tighten Vaccine Exemptions

Colorado legislators are considering making it a little more difficult for parents to opt their children out of vaccinations required to attend public school.

 

Current Colorado law does not mandate that children be vaccinated in order to attend school. Children who have medical conditions can opt out of vaccines, and parents who have religious or personal objections to vaccines can also refuse vaccination for their children. In order to do so, they must file forms that attest to this.


The legislative proposal being considered would standardize these forms and tighten the requirements for exemption. They would also improve data collection on exemption rates. Legislators defeated a similar bill last year.

 

Sponsors of the legislation say this is necessary to ensure that as many children as possible are vaccinated. They argue that vaccinations are a vital way to protect public health. Opponents, however, say that mandatory vaccination is government overreach. Parents, they contend, should be free to decide whether or not to give their children vaccinations.

 

Another Colorado legislator has introduced a bill that would require health care providers to give parents information about what he terms “vaccine injuries” and would prevent the state and local governments from taking adverse actions against parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.


Do you think that government should make it more difficult for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children who attend public school?

Flavored Vaping Pods Targeted by Trump Administration

The sale of most flavored e-cigarette pods will soon be illegal.

 

The Trump Administration has announced a ban on pods that contain flavored juices for e-cigarettes, except for tobacco and menthol flavors. Citing concerns with these pods being popular with teenage vapers, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says this ban is necessary to protect public health.

 

In September, President Trump announced that his administration would ban all flavored vaping juice. The actual policy falls short of this sweeping ban, only covering closed pods. Flavored vaping juices sold at vape stores would still be permitted to be sold. Some presidential advisers argued that a widespread ban would lead to job loss in the vaping industry.

 

Supporters of this ban contend that flavored vaping juices are attractive to teenagers. They argue that these flavors get teenagers hooked on an unhealthy habit. Many public health advocates are upset that the Trump Administration did not go further and ban all vaping juices.

 

Opponents of this action point out that vaping is far less dangerous than smoking. They say that by making it less attractive to vape, it will prevent efforts to move people from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes. They argue that the federal government should not target vaping, but welcome it as a public health victory.

 

Sales of these flavored e-cigarette pods will end after 30 days.

 

Do you support the Trump Administration ban on flavored vaping pods?

Tobacco Purchase Age Rising to 21

President Trump has signed into law a key priority of public health officials – increasing the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

 

This increase in the federal tobacco age was contained in the large spending bill that recently passed Congress. That legislation contained funding for the federal government to remain open during the current fiscal year. There were numerous provisions in the legislation that did not directly affect spending, and the increase in the tobacco purchase age was one of them.

 

President Trump has supported increasing this age in the past. He has said it is necessary to protect children. Upon signing the spending legislation, he touted this tobacco measure as part of the overall success of the bill.

 

There was bipartisan support in Congress for accomplishing this. Public health advocates have long called on the federal government to make it more difficult for people to buy tobacco. They say it is necessary to stop young people from being hooked on this unhealthy habit. Opponents argue that people should be free to make their own choices, and that a federal ban oversteps state authority.

 

Prior to this federal action, 19 states had already raised the tobacco purchasing age.

 

Do you support raising the age when someone can buy tobacco to 21?

House Tackles Drug Prices This Week

There has long been a move to do something about the price of drugs. This week, the House of Representatives is considering legislation that its sponsors claim will help make pharmaceuticals more affordable.

 

The House will debate H.R. 3 this week. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To permit the federal government to negotiate drug prices that the Medicare program will pay for certain drugs, such as insulin. The maximum price for such drugs could not exceed 120% of the average price of such drugs in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, or 85% of the average manufacturers' price in the U.S. This set price would also be applicable to private insurance companies unless those companies opted out.

 

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices has long been a goal of liberal lawmakers and interest groups. They say that the federal government should be able to work with drug companies to bring down the price that Medicare pays for the drugs it covers. Not being able to do so, they claim, forces taxpayers to pay whatever price drug companies demand.

 

Opponents of this legislation point out that it is not about negotiating. They argue that the federal government is such a large player in the field of drug purchases that it will set rates, not negotiate them. They note that the legislation forbids paying prices above certain rates. This bill is about imposing price controls, not allowing negotiation. This, they argue, will lead to fewer drugs being developed in the U.S.

 

Given the Democratic control of the House of Representatives, this legislation is likely to pass. However, the chances for Senate consideration are slim.

 

Do you think the federal government should be able to negotiate the prices of drugs it covers through Medicare, and set a cap on prices it deems too high?

Warren Unveils Tax Plan to Pay for Medicare-for-All

Both Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders have embraced Medicare-for-All during their campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. But while Sen. Sanders has been blunt that his plan would require new taxes, Sen. Warren has been less clear about how she would pay for this new federal plan. Today she added clarity to her proposal by outlining a plan to fund her expansion of government health care.

 

Under Sen. Warren’s proposal, here is how she would cover the costs of Medicare-for-all:

  • Tax businesses the amount they are currently paying for their part of employer-sponsored health insurance.
  • Increase efforts to stop tax evasion and avoidance.
  • Impose a new tax on financial transactions.
  • Impose a new tax on larger banks.
  • Modify the tax deduction for corporate depreciation.
  • Impose a new tax on companies that have presences in other countries.
  • Impose a new tax on taxpayers with assets over $50 million.
  • Impose capital gains on a yearly basis instead of when the gains are realized through sales.
  • Reform immigration laws to allow more immigrants to come to the U.S., which Warren says will result in more tax revenue.
  • Cut defense spending.
  •  

There is some dispute over how much federal spending would have to rise with Medicare-for-All. Some estimates put it at $34 trillion over 10 years. That is roughly the amount of all the current federal entitlement programs combined.

 

Senators Sanders and Warren say that Medicare-for-All will not be new spending, but will be a shift in spending. They say that the money currently being spent in the private and government health care sectors, on things such as private insurance or Medicaid, would be replaced by Medicare-for-All spending. In fact, in her plan, Sen. Warren says that companies would ultimately spend less via her new health care tax than they spend paying private insurance premiums.

 

Critics counter that this would be a huge expansion of federal spending that will likely be much more expensive than projected. They also note that this would be a massive re-alignment of how Americans receive their health care, with private insurance being outlawed in most instances.

 

Do you support new taxes on businesses and high-income taxpayers to pay for Medicare-for-All?

 

 

 

Biden Backs Government Health Care Buy-In Plan

Health care is likely to be a big issue during the 2020 presidential campaign. Former Vice President Joe Biden today waded into this debate, unveiling his plan to reshape America’s health care sector. But his ideas are drawing a sharp distinction between him and more liberal members of his party.

 

Under Biden’s plan, the federal government would operate a health care program where any American could buy into. This resurrects the “public option” program that was initially part of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. President Obama pushed for this type of government buy-in, but members of Congress thought that it was too problematic. It did not make it into the final version of Obamacare.

 

This public option stands in stark contrast to an idea that is increasingly popular with progressive Democratic politicians: a single-payer system, where private insurance is outlawed and the government runs the health care sector. Sen. Bernie Sanders has championed this most actively, but this idea has also gained ground with other candidates for president.

 

Biden points out that single-payer, also called Medicare for All, involves ending Obamacare. Biden said he is proud of that law and wants to build on it, not repeal it. He also notes that many people like their private insurance, so outlawing that would be a major disruption for millions of Americans.

 

Under the Biden plan, there would also be expanded subsidies for insurance purchases as well as allowing more people to access Medicaid. Biden also wants to provide more funding to Planned Parenthood. He would pay for these ideas with a new tax on investment income earned by taxpayers with higher incomes.

 

Whether it is a public option or single-payer, any such system must be approved by Congress. If Republicans maintain control of either chamber after the 2020 election, either idea seems unlikely. In fact, it is unclear how much support either idea has among Democratic members of Congress.

 

Do you support a government health care program that allows people to buy into it but still allows private insurance? Should there be a single-payer system where there is no private insurance? Or should there be some other health care reform?

NY Ends Religious Exemption for Vaccination

New York is experiencing its worst measles outbreak in decades. In response, the state will no longer allow parents to cite their religious beliefs to refuse meeting vaccination requirements for school enrollment.

 

Under a bill signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, parents wishing to enroll their children in school can no longer say their religious beliefs preclude them from vaccination in order to gain an exemption from the mandate. Children who have medical conditions that do not allow them to be vaccinated could still receive an exemption. Children who are home schooled do not have to be vaccinated.

 

Many of the measles cases in New York are centered in the Orthodox Jewish community, many of whose members shun vaccinations. Some Orthodox Jewish leaders protested this new law, saying it will infringe upon their religious beliefs. Backers of the bill said that there is no religious right to spread diseases to others.

 

Public health advocates have been pushing to make it more difficult for parents to opt out of the vaccination schedule. They point to the rising cases of measles and other diseases that can be stopped by vaccines, saying that parents are using loopholes to avoid proven ways to stop these outbreaks. Some parents are pushing back, citing health or moral concerns as reasons to avoid vaccinating their children.

 

In recent years, both California and Maine have revoked their religious exemptions to vaccine mandates, joining Mississippi and West Virginia – and now New York – as the only states without this exemption.

 

Do you think that parents should be able to claim religious reasons to avoid vaccinating their children prior to school enrollment?

AOC, Cruz Team up on Birth Control

Conservative Senator Ted Cruz and Progressive Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez don’t agree on much. But they appear to have found common ground via Twitter on a subject that affects the lives of tens of millions of Americans – birth control.

 

Specifically, the two lawmakers agree that oral contraceptives for women should be available without prescription. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classification for these contraceptives do not allow them to be sold over the counter, forcing women to get a prescription if they want them. There is growing bipartisan consensus that this should change.

 

Some states have passed laws allowing pharmacists to write prescriptions for oral contraception, making it easier for women to buy it. Sen. Cruz and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez want to go further, however. They would like to see the FDA reclassify these drugs to enable their purchase without any prescription at all. For the FDA to do this, it will take a lengthy reclassification process. President Trump has signaled his support for this, saying in 2016 that women should not be forced to get a prescription to buy contraception.

 

If the FDA does reclassify these drugs, they would be much easier for women to purchase. However, some worry that if they became over-the-counter drugs, then insurance would no longer be forced to provide them at no charge to users. They see this move by conservatives as a way to undermine the Affordable Care Act.


For the FDA to begin examining oral contraceptives for over-the-counter sale, a company must petition the agency to do so.

 

Should the government allow birth control pills to be sold without a prescription?

Beverly Hills Bans Tobacco Sales

Smokers in Beverly Hills will soon have to go outside the city limits to buy tobacco. The city council recently voted to prohibit the sale of tobacco and vaping products in most retail establishments.

 

In a unanimous vote, the council passed a law banning the sale of cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products as well as electronic cigarettes. Hotels and cigar lounges are exempt from the law, which affects all other retail establishments in the city limits. This ban takes effect in 2021.

 

Backers of this measure say that it is necessary to protect public health. The ordinance states that it is a way to promote the city’s healthy image. Opponents counter that tobacco users will merely go to retailers outside the city limits to buy their products. This, they argue, will hurt businesses in Beverly Hills but do nothing to decrease tobacco use in the city.

 

This action by Beverly Hills is the first time that a city has banned almost all tobacco sales. Some other California cities are also considering a similar ban.

 

Do you think that the government should prohibit the sale of tobacco products?

Senators Want Tobacco Age to be 21

States across the nation are increasing the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21. Now the U.S. Senate may act to prohibit anyone under 21 from buying tobacco nationwide.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, and Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, have teamed up on legislation that would raise the federal tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21. Both senators are from major tobacco-producing states, but they say that public health concerns are foremost in their mind.

 

The bill, if enacted, would make it a crime for a retailer to sell tobacco products or vaping products to anyone under 21. It would also cut off some federal funds to states that do not set their tobacco purchasing age at 21.

 

These senators, and others who want to see the age increased, argue that it is a vital way to stop teenagers from starting smoking. They point out that most smokers start in their teen years, so this would prevent older teens from supplying cigarettes to younger teens. Backers of the proposal also contend it is necessary to combat the rise in teen vaping. Critics say that the law establishes adulthood at 18, so the tobacco purchase age should not be higher.

 

Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., have laws setting the tobacco purchase age at 21. Some of these state laws exempt military personnel from the higher purchase age, but the federal legislation would not.

 

With the majority leader’s backing, this bill is likely to receive consideration by the full Senate.

 

Do you think that the federal government should prohibit anyone under 21 from buying tobacco or vaping products?

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