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Tobacco-Free Kids Strongly Supports the Quit Because of COVID-19 Act that Will Expand Medicaid and CHIP Coverage for Tobacco Cessation Treatments

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
August 06, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids strongly supports the Quit Because of COVID-19 Act, and we applaud U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) for their leadership in introducing this bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate. This legislation will 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. U.S. Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) have introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

As COVID-19 infections rise once again, this legislation could not be more timely. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black, Hispanic, Native American and other vulnerable populations, and the CDC has warned that smoking increases risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Medicaid enrollees smoke at more than twice the rate of adults with private health insurance (24.9% to 10.7%), which increases their risk of cancer, heart disease, COPD, diabetes and other tobacco-caused diseases. Smoking-related diseases also account for about $68 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 healthcare costs. It deserves strong support and prompt consideration from Congress.

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 chance to quit successfully. 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 for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency and the two years that follow 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 thank Senators Carper and Collins for their leadership and look forward to working with them to advance this important legislation.