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States Should Fund Quit-Smoking Treatments: Experts

Every former smoker saves $20,000 in health costs, American Lung Association reports

THURSDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Lives and money are being wasted because most states aren't doing enough to make it easy for smokers to access comprehensive anti-tobacco treatments, according to an American Lung Association report released Thursday.

Comprehensive coverage includes open access to seven smoking-cessation medications and three forms of counseling that are recommended to treat nicotine addiction by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The medications include over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies and two non-nicotine prescription drugs bupropion (Welbutrin, Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix). Counseling should include at least four individual, group or telephone therapy sessions lasting no less than 10 minutes each, according to the HHS.

Recent studies suggest that lifetime savings in tobacco-related health costs for every former smoker total more than $20,000, the American Lung Association said. In addition, employers and insurance plans could save up to $210 per year for every covered smoker who quits. Among pregnant women who quit smoking, there's a potential health care system cost savings of $881 for each premature birth that's prevented.

The American Lung Association is urging each state to provide all Medicaid recipients and state employees with comprehensive, easily accessible tobacco-cessation medications and counseling. States need to eliminate artificial barriers such as co-pays, limits on the length of treatment, and prior authorization requirements, which can make it difficult for smokers to get the help they need, the group said.

Furthermore, private insurance plans should offer comprehensive smoking cessation coverage and states should require all insurance companies to cover these treatments.

The lung association reports that:

  • Only eight states (California, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota and Rhode Island) have laws or regulatory standards requiring insurance companies to provide cessation coverage.
  • Only seven states (Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania) provide comprehensive tobacco-cessation coverage for Medicaid recipients.
  • Only six states (Alabama, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and New Mexico) provide comprehensive coverage for state employees.

"Millions of dollars and countless lives could be save each year if more smokers quit," Bernadette Toomey, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in a news release. "Smoking's devastating toll in death and suffering is well known. Nearly every family has been touched by tobacco-related illness. But what's less known is the tremendous burden that treating these ailments places on our economy. States cannot continue to ignore this unfortunate reality."

"One adult in five smokes; that's more than 43 million Americans," Toomey added. "Helping smokers quit benefits us all, smokers and nonsmokers alike."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about quitting smoking.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Lung Association, news release, Nov. 13, 2008

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