Elizabeth Daigneau is GOVERNING's managing editor.E-mail: email@example.com
When Massachusetts began offering antismoking treatments through its public health plan, no one believed it would reap such big benefits so soon.
Smoking-related illnesses cost the Medicaid system more than $22 billion a year. Nationally, the rate of smoking among Medicaid patients is about 18 percent. In Massachusetts, the rate is double the national average at about 38 percent - or at least it was until 2006 when the state began offering its Medicaid recipients smoking-cessation treatments. As part of the state's landmark universal health care law, the state Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program and MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program, created a barrier-free smoking-cessation program, which provides Medicaid recipients with six months of antismoking drugs and 16 counseling sessions a year. Two and a half years later, the smoking rate for poor residents in Massachusetts has dropped by 10 percent. State researchers also found indications that smokers who took advantage of the cessation program had fewer hospital visits for asthma and heart attacks. Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania also offer extensive smoking-cessation benefits to their Medicaid recipients, but only Massachusetts has reported a significant drop in its smoking rate. State officials theorize the difference could be because these programs may not have promoted their cessation benefits as aggressively or kept track of the results. According to the New York Times , the study's numbers are so encouraging that several senators are pushing for a similar program in the health care reform bill.