Anti-smoking law would save lives, money, study says

June 22, 2010

By Daniel Weintraub

A law to require insurance companies to cover smoking cessation services at no out-of-pocket cost to consumers would improve public health and the economy at a cost of less than $1 a month for each person covered by insurance, according to an independent analysis of the proposal.

The study was performed by the California Health Benefits Review Program, which since 2002 has analyzed the cost and potential benefit of legislative proposals to require insurance companies to provide certain services to their customers, known as “mandates.”

The anti-smoking bill, SB 220, by Sen. Leland Yee, would require insurers to offer telephone, group or individual counseling to smokers and all medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help smokers quit. This would include nicotine replacement therapy and prescription drug therapies, including gum, skin patches, inhalers, nasal sprays and other forms of treatment that counter the urge to smoke.

Counseling and medications could be limited to two courses per year. No co-payment, coinsurance, or deductible could be collected from the consumer.

Most of these benefits will be required as part of federal health reform, but those provisions of the federal bill will not take effect until 2014. SB 220 would take effect next year in California if it were passed and signed into law.

The study found that an additional 118,000 California smokers would get treatment in the first year as a result of the mandate. That treatment would cost, at most, about 67 cents per month for each person with insurance. The total cost of the treatment would be about $52 million in the first year.

That cost would probably be reduced by about $1 million from because about 10 fewer low-birth weight babies would be delivered and hospitalized, thanks to pregnant mothers who would quit smoking because of the new law.

But the savings over time could be much greater,. Tobacco use, the study points out, has “both direct and indirect costs that affect individuals, employers, health plans, the government and society.”

The study estimated that about 8,000 additional Californians would quit smoking each year, adding up to 100,000 years of potential life gained annuallyr because fewer people would die prematurely from the effects of smoking.

Smoking related productivity loss, projected to be about $8.5 billion in 2004, would also decline.

“Smoking cessation treatment is cost-effective,” the study said, and probably more cost-effective than other widely accepted medical treatments currently covered by insurance.

The cost of treating high-blood pressure, for example, ranges from between $5,000 to $45,000 per life-year gained, while smoking cessation treatment costs a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per life-year gained.

To see the entire report and other studies by the benefits review program, go here.

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