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American Lung Association Urges Full Coverage of Clinically Proven Smoking Cessation Treatments

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) Nov. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the debate over health care reform dominates the media and political arena, a new American Lung Association report finds that states aren't doing enough to help smokers quit - and policymakers must fix this in the health care reform process. In its new report, Helping Smokers Quit: State Cessation Coverage 2009, the American Lung Association advocates for a national prevention and wellness strategy that targets reducing tobacco use by helping smokers quit and preventing them from starting. Key among these strategies is the full coverage of clinically proven smoking cessation treatments for all smokers.

The Helping Smokers Quit: State Cessation Coverage 2009 report provides an overview of smoking cessation services and treatments offered in each state by public and private health care plans. Currently, only six states provide comprehensive smoking cessation coverage for Medicaid recipients. Only five states even provide such coverage to state employees.

"Helping smokers across the country quit must be an integral part of any reformed health care system," said American Lung Association President and CEO Charles D. Connor. "Policy makers at the federal and state levels have a responsibility right now to ensure that the nearly 46 million smokers in this country have the help they need to quit."

Tobacco kills 443,000 people in America each year.

"The addiction to tobacco is extremely deadly and costly," said Norman H. Edelman, M.D., American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer. "The single most important thing a smoker can do to improve his or her health is to quit smoking, which may take multiple tries and various treatments to stop using tobacco products for good."

Surveys show that 70 percent of tobacco users want to give up tobacco. Studies also show that smokers' lives are more than 13 years shorter than non-smokers. Helping people quit saves lives as well as thousands of dollars in health care expenditures per smoker.

"All public and private health care plans should fully cover ALL FDA approved tobacco cessation treatments recommended by federal clinical practice guidelines," said Connor. "The American Lung Association urges Congress and the President to ensure all smokers are provided with comprehensive coverage for cessation treatments in any health care reform proposal that becomes law."

Comprehensive coverage requires providing easy access to the seven cessation medications and three forms of counseling recommended to treat nicotine addiction by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). These medications include over-the-counter and prescription nicotine-replacement-therapies and two non-nicotine prescription drugs: bupropion and varenicline. According to HHS, counseling should include at least four individual, group or telephone therapy sessions lasting no less than 10 minutes each.

Since the Lung Association began tracking data on coverage of cessation treatments in 2008, there have been few changes to coverage policies. Presently, only six states provide comprehensive coverage for Medicaid recipients: Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania. Just five states provide comprehensive cessation coverage for state employees: Illinois, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and New Mexico.

The Lung Association recommends that private insurance plans also offer comprehensive cessation coverage and encourages states to require all insurance companies to cover these treatments. Currently, only seven states (Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon and Rhode Island) have such requirements.

This lack of comprehensive cessation coverage in most states leaves smokers without clinically-proven treatment options when they want to quit.

"Smoking is extremely addictive for most people and quitting 'cold turkey' generally isn't effective," said Dr. Edelman. "The majority of smokers need help quitting. Unfortunately, smokers don't always have easy access to these treatments and face barriers to coverage like costly co-pays and limitations on the duration of treatments."

The American Lung Association calls upon each state to provide all Medicaid recipients, state employees and private insurance holders with comprehensive, easily-accessible tobacco cessation medications and counseling.

"Helping more Americans quit smoking remains a top public health priority for the American Lung Association," said Connor. "Quitting smoking also has economic benefits. Savings on smoking-related medical expenses benefit smokers, insurance companies, employers, and governments. We are here to provide expert support and proven resources that have helped more than one million people quit smoking for good."