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Policymakers can aid smoking cessation

States, including Virginia, 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, a new American Lung Association report finds.

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.

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.

Only six states offer comprehensive cessation coverage for Medicaid recipients. Only five provide this comprehensive coverage to state workers and their families. Virginia does not provide coverage for its citizens who are Medicaid recipients, and does not provide the coverage for state employees.

Virginia is not one of eight states with laws or insurance regulations requiring smoking cessation coverage in some or all private insurance plans; that is another area identified by the American Lung Association where states can take immediate action to require urgently-needed, expanded coverage.

“With the reforms from the new federal health care law starting to take effect, states have a historic opportunity today to ensure that all smokers have access to treatments that can help them quit, ” said American Lung President and CEO Charles D. Connor. “When it comes to quit-smoking treatments that save lives, it’s crucial that state policymakers close the coverage gap. The federal government has gone a long way to address the problem, but it didn’t go far enough.”

“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.

The annual report also identifies several states that made important advances in 2010:

Kentucky, a tobacco-producing state, approved funding to help Medicaid recipients quit smoking through coverage of some tobacco cessation treatments.

Hawaii required managed-care organizations that contract with its Medicaid program to provide near-comprehensive coverage of cessation treatments.

And Montana, Nebraska, and Florida began providing quit-smoking benefits for state employees after having offered no help in the past to those who wanted to stop.

More states need to follow these examples, the American Lung Association report says. It is urgent for states to improve smoking cessation coverage now, the report adds, because more smokers are attempting to quit as they face an increasing number of smokefree laws and higher tobacco prices.

When most states, including Virginia, fall short of providing comprehensive cessation coverage, it leaves smokers with little help when they want to quit.

The “Helping Smokers Quit: State Cessation Coverage 2010” report is available at

Edited by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at