Smoking reported down 26% among people with Mass. subsidized health insurance program

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services said last week that about 33,000 MassHealth members have quit smoking since the state’s tobacco cessation benefit was established in 2006, according to a recent Department of Public Health survey. That translates to a 26 percent decrease in smoking among MassHealth members, the state said.

MassHealth is the state’s Medicaid program that provides health insurance for low-income people, and the cheap tobacco cessation benefit provides medications such as the nicotine patch, gum, lozenge or a pill for a $1 or $3 copay. The program also offers counseling.

“Three out of four smokers say that they want to quit, but the cost of medications that help with cravings is a significant financial barrier to many low-income people,” said Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach. “The success of the MassHealth benefit shows that smokers will utilize such a benefit, and they will quit in large numbers with the appropriate supports.”

Smoking remains the number one preventable cause of death in the state, with more than 8,000 residents dying each year from the effects of smoking, the state said. Tobacco use is also associated with $4.3 billion in excess health care costs in the state annually.

In the 12 months before the benefit went into effect, smoking among MassHealth members was more than twice the rate of that of the general population. Studies have found that people with lower income smoke more than those with higher earnings, the state said.

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