Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Colorado Legislature Considering Bill to Deny Medical Treatment to Smokers

A bill introduced by state Senator Ron Teck into the Colorado legislature this session would phase out state funding for treatment of head, neck, and lung cancer caused by smoking, according to an article in the Daily Sentinel.

Senate Bill 101, which is expected to be considered in committee tomorrow, would deny publicly funded medical treatment to victims of these cancers who obtained these diseases because of smoking, with a gradual phase-out of funding based on the year individuals started smoking: "“Senate Bill 101 would incrementally phase out medical benefits over a 20-year period. The state would continue to pick up the treatment tab of anyone who started smoking or using tobacco products before 1975. The percentage of treatment costs covered by the state would drop 5 percent every year after 1975. That means a person who didn'’t start smoking or using tobacco products until 1985 would receive half of what the state now pays for the treatment of their smoking-related condition."”

This essentially means that anyone who starts smoking from now on will be denied coverage for treatment of lung cancer in Colorado if their diseases are deemed due to smoking and if they do not have private medical insurance.

How would the state know if a person'’s lung cancer was due to smoking? According to Senator Teck, oncologists "can, with 100 percent confidence, ID people who have incurred these diseases from smoking."

The reason Teck gives for introducing this legislation is that it is unfair for taxpayers to subsidize health care costs for smokers.

The Rest of the Story

While this proposal is so ludicrous and inhumane that it will hopefully not garner any serious consideration, the very fact that Teck was able to introduce this legislation without fear of being made a laughing stock in Colorado is quite concerning.

And I fear that we (anti-smoking advocates and organizations) have something to do with that.

It is, after all, the active promotion as well as passive support by anti-smoking groups of policies that discriminate against smokers in the name of helping to improve their health and to save money for employers and nonsmoking workers and taxpayers that has paved the way to make the introduction of such an inhumane and sickening proposal possible.

When you start leading people down a road, it can become quite difficult to get them to stop and turn back. And in my view, anti-smoking groups that have been promoting or supporting policies to fire smokers in the workplace, to refuse to hire smokers, and to ban smoking in outdoors public places in order to protect children from seeing smokers are largely responsible for leading policy makers down this road, along which they are now proceeding with reckless abandon.

This is why I, like NFL team owners about to fire their head coaches, say that I don't like the direction the program is going.

It just seems to me that we have left the realm of public health and that we are now on some sort of crusade to punish smokers for their behavior. We don't want them to be able to compete for jobs in the workplace, we don't want them to be able to retain jobs, we don't want anyone to see them in public, and now, some policy makers are taking it a step further and trying to deny them medical care. Where will it stop?

I honestly used to think that when critics of tobacco control asked the question "Where will it stop?" they were full of crap. But I am starting to see that there is a dynamic where leading policy makers down a path can result in momentum that propels them further down that path, even if our original intentions were not to proceed that far.

The question is: do anti-smoking groups want to proceed that far? To be quite honest, I'm not clear on the answer. For Action on Smoking and Health, the answer does seem clear. They have made it apparent to all that they would like to see smokers fired from their jobs and for smoking to be banned everywhere outdoors as well as in cars with children and homes with foster children.

While the answer is not necessarily clear for the rest of the anti-smoking movement, I can only assume, due to these groups' failure to speak out against the direction of the program, that they at least quietly support what is happening.

It will be interesting to see if any anti-smoking groups publicly speak out against Senate Bill 101.

I suspect not. I think it is difficult for anti-smoking groups to say anything that might be construed as suggesting that smokers have rights just like the "rest" of us.

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