State Medicaid programs could see a significant return on their investment in anti-smoking programs, according to a recently released study by George Washington University.

The University's Center for Health Policy Research analyzed the cost-savings of a comprehensive Medicaid tobacco cessation program in Massachusetts. Earlier research showed the program had been successful in reducing the number of smokers in the Medicaid program and the number of admittances to the hospital for cardiovascular conditions.

The study, based on data from the state's 2002-2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys and the Behaviorial Risk Factor Surveillance Surveys, found that every $1 invested into the smoking cessation program yielded $3.12 in medical savings. Pharmacotherapy, counseling and outreach costs averaged $183 per program participant, according to the study, while its authors estimated the state Medicaid system saved $571 per program participant on inpatient medical costs.

Medicaid programs in 47 states and the District of Columbia have some coverage for tobacco dependence, the study noted, although it is limited in most cases. The Affordable Care Act requires states to cover anti-smoking medications under their Medicaid programs by 2014.

Massachusetts initiated its Medicaid smoking cessation in 2006, according to the study. It offered FDA-approved medications with a doctor's prescription for copayments ranging from $1 to $3, as well as five free counseling sessions with the state's telephone quit line.

Previous research found that 37 percent of smokers in the state's Medicaid population took part in the program, according to the report, and it led to a 10 percent reduction in the rate of smoking. The George Washington University study tracked more than 21,500 Medicaid beneficiaries who participated in the program.

"These results suggest that an investment in comprehensive tobacco cessation services may result in substantial savings for Medicaid programs," the study's authors concluded. "Further federal and state policy actions to promote and cover comprehensive tobacco cessation services in Medicaid may be a cost-effective approach to improve health outcomes for low-income populations."