by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – It’s the premise of many political debates in Missouri right now: the question of what role, if any, should government have in our lives.
When it comes to health, that question ripples through discussions at the local, state and national level.
Despite resistance from lawmakers and a setback from voters, the American Cancer Society’s Missouri branch continues to push for increased regulations and higher taxes they say will save lives and save taxpayers money in the long run. The national organization recently graded all states on their tobacco-related laws, taxes and spending. According to them, Missouri flunked.
Stacy Reliford is part of the ACS Missouri Government Relations team and wants to see the law eliminate smoking from all workplaces, public or private. There’s no realistic chance of that happening on a statewide level right now in Missouri, but several cities have adopted smoking bans around the state. Reliford says that ground-up approach is part of a statewide strategy.
Critics say bans that affect private property, especially businesses that cater to adults like bars, some restaurants and casinos, violates the rights of customers and business owners to make private decisions. Reliford, in a “Missouri Viewpoints” interview, says the regulations are needed for two reasons: to reduce secondhand smoke for everyone and to protect employees. She says that in a tough economy, hourly workers often cannot “vote with their feet” and leave a job because it’s not easy to find work in many places.
The ACS also wants Missouri to increase taxes on tobacco products. That idea was rejected by voters in 2012 but Reliford is still hopeful that the rate will be increased, saying higher costs discourage people from smoking. She also believes the tax increase would be good for the state because smoking-related illnesses are a major impact on Medicaid spending.
While she says she understands the philosophical opposition to more laws and higher taxes, Reliford maintains that the ideas have a proven track record of improving public health.
A part of health care that people often overlook is oral care. The Missouri Coalition for Oral Health hopes Missourians will think of dental health and other parts of physical health together, as opposed to thinking they are unrelated.
Gary Harbison is the Coalition’s Executive Director and wants to increase the awareness of the importance of oral health.
There are public policy efforts for that, too. Among those are increasing Medicaid coverage for oral health needs, including for preventative treatments.
According to the Coalition’s policy position, “Covering routine, preventive oral health care and comprehensive dental treatment for MO HealthNet adults is cost-effective. This will also reduce the use of expensive emergency room and hospitalization services for untreated oral disease and disorders that could have been easily and better managed through routine dental care.
“Oral Health is a key part of overall health. Sound public policy in support of a system of care is needed to ensure that improvement in the oral health of Missourians is achieved and maintained over time.”
On the web:
American Cancer Society’s Missouri “Report Card”: http://www.acscan.org/content/report-cards/missouri/
Missouri Coalition for Oral Health: http://www.oralhealthmissouri.org