Medicaid stop-smoking program gets $1.5 million in budget

Health advocates say Kentucky’s bleak budget has one bright spot — it funds a long-sought program to help people on Medicaid stop smoking,Lawmakers allocated $1.5 million a year for the next two fiscal years that, combined with additional federal matching money, will give Medicaid officials about $11 million for the program.

“We’re thrilled it finally got the funding,” said Amy Barkley of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, one of several groups that had lobbied the legislature to fund the program. “Everybody agreed it was kind of a no-brainer. People can quit smoking if they are given the appropriate tools.”

Lawmakers authorized the project in 2007 but never funded it because of the tight state budget. But advocates kept lobbying for funding.

They argued that the state’s increasingly costly Medicaid program, which provides health care for nearly 800,000 low-income and disabled Kentuckians, could save money it now spends to treat smoking-related diseases.

Passport Health Plan, a Medicaid managed care system for people in the Jefferson County region, voluntarily began offering smoking-cessation services to its members three years ago without extra payment under its contract with the state. It serves about 165,000 people in Jefferson and 15 surrounding counties.

But beyond Passport, smokers on Medicaid have had little other assistance except for the state’s toll-free help line, 1-800-QUITNOW begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-800-QUITNOW end_of_the_skype_highlighting, which offers advice and counseling. Local health departments offer some stop-smoking assistance but services and funding are limited.

The state’s $5.2-billion-a-year Medicaid program spends about $500 million a year on smoking-related illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes and respiratory disorders, according to health advocates. Kentucky leads the nation in smoking-related deaths and continues to have one of the highest smoking rates.

About one in four Kentucky adults smoke, and the rate tends to be higher among those covered by Medicaid, said Tonya Chang, with the American Heart Association.

But she said that research shows the majority of smokers want to quit and that smoking-cessation programs are among the most effective measures to prevent disease and reduce medical costs — second only to immunizations.

“Medicaid costs continue to grow, and much of those costs are on chronic diseases,” she said.

State Medicaid Commissioner Elizabeth Johnson said she is pleased lawmakers funded the initiative, and her department is working out details of the program it will offer after funds become available July 1. The law calls for the state to provide a combination of medication and counseling to help people stop smoking.

Health advocates say that combination is generally most successful in helping people kick their addiction to nicotine.

Sherry Rumbaugh, a nurse who administers the Passport smoking-cessation program called “Yes, You Can!”, said it has been very effective in using a combination of counseling as well as medications including nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches, and prescription medications that ease the craving for nicotine.

She said the health benefits have been significant for those who quit, especially among patients that have illnesses affected by smoking.

“If you have a member who has asthma and is smoking, you’re only going to get so far in controlling the asthma unless you get them to stop smoking,” she said.

Rumbaugh said she is pleased to hear Medicaid will expand stop-smoking efforts statewide and that Passport offers a good model they would be happy to share with the state program.

“I think that’s great,” she said. “This program could be easily replicated.”

source: courier-journal.com

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