State Capitol Q&A: A look at the smoking cessation bill

Posted: 4/6/2010

From The State Journal-Register

With the state's economy in a tailspin, insurance companies and businesses may have to fork over extra money for programs to help people quit smoking. House Bill 5766 requires that a person's health insurance coverage include up to $500 in smoking cessation programs ranging from nicotine gum to counseling each year. Supporters say cessation programs would drastically cut health care spending statewide. But some small businesses and insurance providers say they can't afford to pay for another type of coverage. This week's State Capitol Q&A takes a closer look at the smoking cessation bill and why it's moving forward:  

Q: What does the bill do? 

A: Basically, it would require private insurance companies to cover up to $500 in smoking cessation services for people at least 18 years old. After that, the policyholder would have to pay any additional expenses out of their own pocket. Under the bill, a person would have to choose a tobacco cessation program that has been proven effective in helping smokers quit and been recommended by a licensed doctor. The legislation prevents insurance providers from denying coverage to eligible applicants just to avoid paying the extra money.  

Q: Who's behind this idea? 

A: Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, came up with the legislation after using smoking cessation methods to successfully quit in December 2007. Describing herself as an "on and off" smoker for 30 years, Feigenholtz said she used a pharmaceutical drug, along with a support system, to kick the habit. She said the legislation is a way for the services "to reasonably be there for people who want to quit" smoking. That would make it easier for people to quit and cut spending on health problems from smoking. 

"Just from my own experience, my health has dramatically improved," she said. Matt Maloney, health policy director at the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, said seven states have some form of smoking cessation coverage law: Oregon, Rhode Island, Colorado, New Jersey, North Dakota, New Mexico and Maryland. Oregon's cessation program, which he said is one of the most comprehensive in the nation, also requires insurance companies to cover up to $500 for the programs.  

Q: How much does the state spend on smoking-related illnesses? 

A: According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, about $4.1 billion is spent each year to treat smoking illnesses statewide. Smoking has resulted in $4.35 billion in lost productivity statewide, including missed workdays. More than 2 million people in Illinois are smokers. More than 16,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses statewide, and another 2,130 die from complications from secondhand smoke.  

Q: Who is opposed to the legislation? 

A: Kim Clarke Maisch, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said NFIB is against all mandates. "They all have merits, but they have a price tag," she said. "And small employers can't afford it." Maisch said the overwhelming number of mandates in effect statewide makes it hard for employers to pay for other types of coverage they may need. She said the agency would prefer allowing businesses and employees to choose their own coverage plans. Maloney said several insurance companies were against the bill because it required them to set money aside to pay for the treatment programs.  

Q: Where does the bill go from here? 

A: The House passed the bill with a 66-40 vote two weeks ago. It now heads to the Senate. Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, who is sponsoring the House bill, said its fate depends on which Senate committee hears it. The insurance committee would be less likely to approve it than the one on public health. 

The bill passed with a somewhat bipartisan House vote, with 58 Democrats and eight Republicans voting in favor of the bill. Maloney said he is "optimistic" that the Senate would approve the bill once lawmakers return from spring break. He and other supporters will be talking with senators over the break to build momentum.  

John Guidroz can be reached at 217-782-6882 or John.guidroz@sj-r.com.

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