New tax on sugary drinks?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Proposal cut help with Medicaid funding gap

The American Heart Association on Tuesday shared a proposal to tax sugary drinks as a way to close the state’s Medicaid funding gap and fund preventative healthcare programs.

0615-sugary-drinksIf approved by the legislature, the proposal would implement a penny-per-ounce excise tax on any beverage with five or more grams of added sugar, generating an estimated $200 million per year of the state’s General Fund. Sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, sweet tea, and some juices would be included.

The 2016-17 General Fund budget approved by the legislature earlier this year under funds Medicaid by approximately $85 million. Without full state funding, the agency also will likely lose $700 million in federal funding for Medicaid reform programs in the state. Gov. Robert Bentley and other state experts have predicted the budget shortfall will mean programs like adult prescription drug coverage and outpatient dialysis will be cut.

“Many doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals and other medical services across the state are at great risk, and some will be forced to close without adequate Medicaid funding,” Jim Carnes, Policy Director with advocacy group and American Heart Association coalition partner Alabama Arise, said. “Loss of these vital assets will harm local communities, our healthcare infrastructure, and Alabama’s entire economy. That’s why we need a solution, and the sugary drink tax is a promising way to avoid devastating cuts. It could fix Medicaid’s funding shortfall with a single vote.”

One in five Alabamians – many of whom are children – depend upon Medicaid for healthcare. The state also spends more than $2.17 billion a year in preventable healthcare expenditures treating chronic diseases such as heart disease, type II diabetes and tooth decay, said Mim Gaines, Director of Dietetic Internship at Samford University and advocacy volunteer with the American Heart Association.

Alabama currently ranks second in the nation in deaths related to cardiovascular disease; nearly 40 percent of Alabamians have been diagnosed with high blood pressure; and 13 percent of the state’s residents suffer from diabetes. Research shows that overconsumption of sugary drinks contributes to higher rates of these diseases.

The sugary drink tax was introduced in the legislature during the 2016 regular session, and the American Heart Association expects it to be considered in a special session if one is called later this year to address Medicaid.

According to a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the American Heart Association is encouraged by the progress the tax made.

The Heart Association also is taking its campaign to the public, and has received more than 1,500 Rethink Your Drink pledges.