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A proposal to require smokers to pay more for Medicaid services than others on the program is not ready for prime time.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, told members of the House Government Operations Committee on Thursday that his HB247 needs more work before advancing to the full House for consideration.

"We have to start the discussion" and start taking the necessary steps to create a sound program, Ray said.

Modeling private insurance, the bill would require Medicaid recipients to pay a co-pay if they smoke. People enrolled in cessation or wellness programs would be able to have their co-pays waived.

Ray said his goal is to persuade smokers to quit.

But the plan also would bring in revenue, though not a great deal. The extra money, said Ray, could help pay for programs, stave off some budget cuts and lessen the burden on taxpayers.

"We have to help those who cannot help themselves to a point, but what is that point? They need to have personal responsibility," Ray said. "These people choose to get on drugs and taxpayers pay for it."

Imposing co-pays on smokers is just the start, he hopes.

He would like to expand the concept in the future for those who are obese, do drugs and drink alcohol.

Committee members expressed concern over monitoring of patients.

And pediatrician Jennifer Brenton, while applauding the concept of creating wellness programs, worried that already strapped parents who smoke would stop bringing their children in for regular check-ups for fear of being caught and having to pay a co-pay.

Jason Cook, a representative from Medicaid opposed the bill as it is currently written, but encouraged the idea of creating more wellness programs.

The committee unanimously agreed to keep the bill in the committee, to continue the discussion and refine it with the goal of having it ready for action later in the session.