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Medicaid expands benefits to include quit-smoking initiative

As of July 1, the Department of Social and Health Services medical programs' coverage was expanded to include a new smoking cessation benefit for clients. The new benefit, which can include free counseling and prescription drugs, represents a major advancement in public health for Washington. For detailed information, call DSHS at 800-562-3022.

The new benefit represents a partnership between DSHS and the Department of Health, where the Washington State Tobacco Quit Line will help link Medicaid clients to the new benefit. The toll-free number is available to any Washington resident at 800-QUIT-NOW. Additional help for smokers is available at www.quitline.com.

Robin Arnold-Williams, secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services, said the change is a major plus for low-income groups, where smoking rates remain high despite an overall downward trend among the general population.

"We are extremely pleased that Medicaid coverage will now include a cessation benefit," Arnold-Williams said. "We are continually looking for ways to improve services for our clients and quitting smoking is one of the best things people can do to live longer, healthier lives."

"Quit coaches" will support eligible Medicaid clients with free counseling, nicotine patches or gum, and by recommending a prescription medication, if appropriate. The benefit will cover these services as well as the cost of the prescription medications recommended by the Quit Line if prescribed by the client's own physician or an advanced registered nurse practitioner.

"The new benefit will make a real difference in the lives of people who can least afford to get help quitting smoking," said Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. "Our research shows that low-income people smoke much more than the general population and are less likely to quit successfully. We hope this additional support will help change that."

In addition to improving public health, investing in tobacco cessation saves money. Since the state's comprehensive Tobacco Prevention and Control Program began in 2000, the adult smoking rate has declined by 24 percent. The estimated 235,000 fewer smokers in the state represents an overall savings of $2.1 billion in future health care costs.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that, on average, 14 percent of all Medicaid expenditures are related to smoking. In Washington state, DSHS estimates that approximately 160,000 Medicaid fee-for-service clients smoke and that Medicaid will reach 5 percent of this population in the first year of the benefit.

The Quit Line offers an evidence-based approach to quitting smoking. Since 2000, more than 100,000 people in Washington have called the Quit Line for help. Each year in Clallam County approximately 300 smokers get help from the Quit Line.

All Washington residents are eligible for some level of free quit support through the Tobacco Quit Line.

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