Insurers should spark smoking cessation programs

Health insurers could give members a huge boost toward reaching a common health goal--to quit smoking--and make some money while they're at it. That's based on new study results showing the Massachusetts Medicaid program recouped $3 for every $1 spent on a smoking cessation program for its members. And those savings were accrued in the first 16 months of the program, to boot.

The Medicaid patients who participated in the program had fewer hospital admissions for heart problems than before entering the program, resulting in a $571 per-person savings compared to the $183-per-person cost of the program, according to a study conducted by the George Washington University.

"These findings are so strong that they should serve as an encouragement for all the insurance plans to provide a generous cessation benefit and promote the benefit so that smokers know that it exists," said Lois Keithly, director of the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program. 

Since smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the country and tobacco-related healthcare costs the United States almost $100 billion annually, insurers have lots to gain from implementing a successful smoking cessation program.  

"Investments in comprehensive tobacco cessation services in Medicaid can improve the health of patients, as well as save money for states and the federal government," said Leighton Ku, study coauthor and professor of health policy at George Washington. Those savings would extend to private insurers, as well.

Couple those strong benefits with the fact that 70 percent of smokers want to quit but need some kind of assistance to do so, and insurers have a perfect situation ripe for improvement.

Smokers interested in quitting often don't know where to turn for help, however, so insurers must take steps to educate members about the available cessation programs

Through proper advertising, counseling and other cessation techniques, insurers could see a huge improvement in their bottom line from establishing even just one health program. Plus, they could potentially save the lives of millions of people by preventing cancers and other terminal side-effects of smoking. Now that's a noble cause to embark upon. -Dina (@FiercePayer)