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New Study: Massachusetts Program to Help Medicaid Smokers Quit Saves $3 for every $1 Spent

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 09, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – A newly published study shows that Massachusetts saved more than $3 for every $1 it spent on services to help beneficiaries in the state’s Medicaid program quit smoking. This study provides compelling evidence that comprehensive coverage of tobacco cessation services can save lives and dramatically reduce state and federal health care spending. All states should provide comprehensive Medicaid coverage for smoking cessation treatments.

Previous studies have found that hospital admissions for heart attacks and coronary heart disease fell dramatically among Massachusetts Medicaid beneficiaries after the state began providing comprehensive coverage for smoking cessation medication and counseling in July 2006. Admissions for chest pain also fell.

The new study, conducted by researchers at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services and published in the journal PLoS ONE, examined the cost implications from reducing these hospital admissions. It concludes that every $1 that Massachusetts invested in the program yielded $3.12 in savings for cardiovascular-related hospital admissions alone. The savings from these health gains came in little more than a year after the smoking-cessation benefits were used, demonstrating that states can realize immediate budget gains from helping Medicaid beneficiaries quit. These are conservative savings as they do not include long-term savings or savings that may occur outside the Medicaid program.

The new study confirms the cost effectiveness of the tobacco cessation initiative, which reduced smoking among Massachusetts Medicaid recipients from 38 percent to 28 percent in just 2 1Ž2 years. The study estimates that the reductions in cardiovascular-related hospitalizations translated into net annual savings of about $14.7 million for the state Medicaid program.

The Massachusetts program is a model that all states should follow. The smoking rate among adults insured by Medicaid is 34.9 percent, compared with the national adult smoking rate of 19.3 percent. Medicaid spends $30.9 billion each year to treat diseases caused by tobacco use, a cost borne by both federal and state taxpayers.

Currently only six states – Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania – provide a comprehensive tobacco cessation benefit for Medicaid enrollees, according to a recent report by the American Lung Association. Under the health care reform law, all states must now provide this coverage to pregnant women. Beginning in 2014, they must not exclude tobacco cessation medications from their drug coverage.

The Massachusetts experience demonstrates that a comprehensive approach, including media campaigns that promote the program, counseling and medication, works. We urge all states to expand Medicaid coverage to include comprehensive tobacco-cessation services, without cost barriers. This coverage will help beneficiaries quit smoking, protect children and other family members from secondhand smoke and save both state and federal taxpayers billions in health care costs.

Tobacco kills more than 400,000 Americans every year and costs the nation $96 billion in health care bills annually.