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Tobacco-Free Kids Strongly Supports the Quit Because of COVID-19 Act – Federal Legislation to Expand Medicaid and CHIP Coverage for Tobacco Cessation Treatments

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 22, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids strongly supports the Quit Because of COVID-19 Act, and we applaud Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) for her leadership in introducing this bill today to ensure that all Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollees have access to the full array of proven tobacco cessation treatments at this critical time.

This legislation could not be more timely. Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting African-Americans and other vulnerable populations and a growing body of evidence demonstrates that tobacco users are at greater risk of severe complications from COVID-19. 

Medicaid enrollees smoke at more than twice the rate of adults with private health insurance (23.9% to 10.5%), which increases their risk of cancer, heart disease, COPD, diabetes and other tobacco-caused diseases. Smoking-related diseases also account for about $39 billion in annual Medicaid costs. This legislation will help to reduce the glaring health disparities facing our nation, save lives and improve health among Medicaid and CHIP enrollees, and reduce health care costs. It deserves strong support and prompt consideration from Congress.

As our nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a more important time to help tobacco users quit. Smoking weakens the immune system, increases risk for respiratory infections and is a major cause of underlying health conditions, such as lung and heart disease, that place individuals at greater risk of severe complications from COVID-19. There is also growing evidence that e-cigarette use can harm lung health.

Most tobacco users want to quit, and Medicaid and CHIP enrollees who use tobacco should have barrier-free access to the treatments that give them the best change to quit successfully. Lasting until two years after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Quit Because of COVID-19 Act will:

  • Provide all Medicaid and CHIP enrollees with comprehensive coverage for tobacco cessation treatments, including individual, group and telephone counseling and all seven FDA-approved medications.
  • Reduce barriers to accessing this coverage by eliminating cost sharing and prior authorization requirements.
  • Provide enhanced federal funding to cover the full cost of this coverage and state outreach campaigns to educate providers and Medicaid enrollees about the tobacco cessation benefit.

All state Medicaid programs provide some level of tobacco cessation coverage. However, as of 2018, only 15 states covered all available treatments and only two of these states covered all treatments without barriers to access.

Expanding coverage of tobacco cessation treatments will improve health and lower health care costs. After Massachusetts provided comprehensive coverage of cessation treatments and conducted a campaign to raise awareness of the benefit, the smoking rate among beneficiaries declined by 26 percent in the first 2.5 years. The state dramatically reduced hospitalizations for heart attacks and cardiovascular disease among Medicaid recipients, saving more than $3 for every $1 spent on cessation services, studies have shown.

Tobacco users can quickly and greatly improve their health by quitting – and there has never been a better time to do so than during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is critical that Medicaid and CHIP enrollees get the help they need to quit. We appreciate Congresswoman Blunt Rochester’s leadership on this issue and look forward to working with her to advance this important legislation.