In Kentucky, you don’t have to look far to see the negative impacts of smoking. With more than a quarter of Kentuckians regularly lighting up, we consistently lead the nation in smoking rates.
As an ear, nose and throat specialist, I have treated many patients suffering the physical consequences of smoking. Smokers are at high risk for contracting a number of serious diseases, including chronic sinusitis, bronchitis and throat and larynx cancer.
I have also had the privilege of helping patients who chose to quit. In fact, most smokers in Kentucky — 70 percent — do want to kick the habit. That is why I support Senate Bill 89, which would create barrier-free access to proven-effective smoking-cessation treatments as prescribed to patients by their physicians.
Studies have shown that smokers who work with their physicians are more likely to quit successfully. Doctors are uniquely and ideally poised to advise their patients on how to quit and help them along the way.
We know our patients’ medical histories and can develop a treatment plan tailored to each person’s individual needs. But what happens when insurers limit access to the treatments that medical professionals believe will be most effective for their patients?
Unfortunately, this is often the reality as many insurers in Kentucky do not offer comprehensive, barrier-free smoking cessation coverage. This makes it extremely difficult for smokers to stay motivated to quit.
SB 89 would ensure physicians, not insurers, determine patient care. It would remove complicated barriers like prior authorization and step therapy that often inhibit patients from quickly and affordably getting the treatments they need.
A smoker who quits experiences improvements to his or her health right away. Blood pressure and heart rate become more stable within 20 minutes. After 12 hours, a smoker’s carbon-monoxide levels return to normal. Overall lung function can improve within a couple weeks.
The benefits of smoking cessation extend beyond health outcomes. Kentuckians pay $1.9 billion each year for smoking-related health care costs — approximately $590 million of which is billed to taxpayers via the state’s Medicaid program.
Providing Kentuckians with barrier-free access to cessation treatments now will save taxpayers in the long run, as the risk for costly tobacco-related diseases rapidly decreases as soon as a smoker quits.
Lawmakers in Frankfort have an opportunity to take a critical step forward in reducing Kentucky’s smoking rate and reducing our health-care costs by bringing SB 89 to passage. I encourage everyone in the health care community — physicians, patients, health care advocates and insurers — to join me in supporting this important legislation to ensure comprehensive, evidence-based smoking cessation insurance coverage for all.
If any Kentuckian wants to quit smoking, let’s help them do it.
Dr. Shawn Jones, former president of the Kentucky Medical Association, practices in Paducah.