EmpireStateNews.net: New report finds state falls short in helping smokers quit

ALBANY- A new report released today by the American Lung Association finds that states, including New York, can help millions of Americans quit smoking if policymakers take action to close a coverage gap left by the newly enacted U.S. health care law. The American Lung Association in New York is hopeful that policymakers in Albany take notice of the gaps highlighted in the report and act to correct them when they return for their legislative session.In its new report, "Helping Smokers Quit: State Cessation Coverage 2010," the American Lung Association applauds important advances in the federal health care overhaul, making sure the majority of Americans have help in ending their deadly tobacco addiction. But millions of other smokers still cannot easily get treatments to help them quit. States can bridge the gap as some demonstrated in 2010. Studies show this can be done without breaking budgets."Smoking causes far too many New Yorkers to die prematurely and suffer from lung diseases that erode their quality of life," said Scott T. Santarella. "Most smokers want desperately to quit smoking. This report shows us once again the importance of making sure smokers have access to comprehensive cessation coverage when they do make the decision to quit."Santarella explained that providing comprehensive coverage means ensuring access to seven medications and three types of counseling recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to treat tobacco use and nicotine dependence. Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) are available over the counter (patch, gum, lozenge) and by prescription (patch, nasal spray, inhaler), and there are two non-nicotine, prescription-only medications, called bupropion and varenicline. Recommended types of counseling include individual (face-to-face), group and phone.At present, only six states offer comprehensive cessation coverage for Medicaid recipients In New York, Medicaid coverage for the seven recommended smoking cessation medications varies by plan and there are barriers to coverage, such as limits on duration and annual limits. Prior to this year, cessation counseling in the New York Medicaid program has only been provided to pregnant women. In January 2010, the plan expanded this coverage to include post-partum women (up to six months after giving birth).Similarly, only five states now provide comprehensive cessation coverage to state workers and their families. In New York, coverage for state employees also varies by plan."While the expansion of cessation counseling to some post-partum women is a positive step, we still have gaps in coverage and far too many barriers exist," said Santarella. "We'd like to see comprehensive coverage for all New Yorkers, so that those who want to quit can access the help they need. Medicaid recipients, in particular, need access because they smoke at rates higher than the general population. Ultimately, we would like to see all New Yorkers be provided with comprehensive coverage."Also of concern, Santarella said is that New York is not one of the eight states with laws or insurance regulations requiring smoking cessation coverage in some or all private insurance plans. This is another area identified by the American Lung Association where states can take immediate action to require urgently-needed, expanded coverage."In 2011, we will educate decisionmakers so that they are aware of both the health and economic benefits that can be derived from funding smoking cessation treatments.""Helping Smokers Quit: State Cessation Coverage 2010" provides an overview of cessation services and treatments offered in each state by public and private health care plans and the impact of the federal health care law. Parts of the health care reform law have taken effect in 2010, and states already are making changes to their public and private health care systems as they implement the law.