Smoking cessation should be a priority

Posted: 12/30/2009

This Letter to the Editor ran in Chicago Tribune:

As we look toward the New Year, many people consider resolutions to improve their health, and thousands of people will decide that 2010 is the year they will finally quit smoking. While I applaud their efforts and wish them much success, I also implore public and private insurers to take notice: covering tobacco cessation counseling and medications would yield substantial benefits to public health and decrease our long-term health care spending.

Each year in Illinois, smoking-related health care costs total an estimated $4.10 billion with an additional $4.35 billion in lost productivity. But research shows that approximately 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit. Policies governing insurance coverage at the state level can have a profound effect on tobacco use. Studies have shown that decreasing the barriers for people who want to quit smoking nets a positive return on investment in lower health care costs and fewer missed work days. Several states require smoking cessation coverage to help citizens quit, and some states provide comprehensive cessation to their Medicaid population. The effects of such policies have been dramatic. For instance, after Massachusetts instituted coverage for its Medicaid population, smoking rates fell by 26 percent and hospitalizations for heart attacks and emergency room visits for asthma attacks decreased.

Illinois should move forward to adopt legislation that gives smokers the tools they need to succeed in quitting. Requiring private insurers, as well as Medicaid, to provide comprehensive cessation coverage would create a win-win by lowering the fiscal healthcare burden caused by tobacco use and improving the wellness of our citizens.

-- Diana Hackbarth, PhD, RN, FAAN Board Member, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago

Download a PDF of the original article here