This commentary is submitted on behalf of the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Tobacco Free Kids and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
Kentucky, we have a smoking problem. And the consequences extend beyond those who are lighting up.
All Kentuckians — men, women, seniors, children and even unborn babies — pay a toll for the commonwealth’s high smoking rate of 26.5 percent. For some, this comes in the form of poor health and chronic disease. Others are impacted financially. Many endure both the physical and financial ramifications.
The statistics are staggering and have been for far too long. Kentucky leads the nation in smoking and tobacco use, with 900,000 smokers statewide — a quarter of the population. That includes a startling 24 percent of pregnant women.
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Tobacco use costs our state $1.9 billion in health care costs each year, including nearly $590 million in Medicaid costs. The toll on human lives is simply devastating as almost 9,000 Kentuckians die each year as a result of smoking.
If we want to improve Kentucky’s health, save lives and save money, we must do everything possible to help smokers quit.
The good news is that the majority of Kentucky smokers want to do just that. The bad news is they often lack access to the smoking-cessation treatments and medications proven to help them quit.
To address this problem, state Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, has filed Senate Bill 291, which would require all Kentucky insurers — private, state-based and Medicaid — to cover all FDA-approved smoking cessation medications and all types of counseling without cost-sharing or prior authorization.
Research shows that residents of our state lack critical access to smoking cessation treatments proven to be effective. Kentucky’s Medicaid program does not cover comprehensive smoking cessation benefits for enrollees. Studies by Georgetown University and the American Lung Association indicate that many insurers are not offering comprehensive smoking cessation coverage.
Helping smokers quit will improve health outcomes, save lives and lower health care costs. An evaluation of Massachusetts’ comprehensive Medicaid cessation program found that every dollar invested in smoking cessation lowered Medicaid expenditures by $3 due to a rapid reduction in hospital visits for heart disease.
Giving smokers access to comprehensive, evidence-based smoking cessation insurance coverage is a key part of the solution to lowering Kentucky’s longstanding high smoking rates.
It is in the best interest of all Kentuckians — smokers and nonsmokers alike — to pass SB 291 and help Kentucky quit smoking for good. Please encourage your state legislators to stand with Adams and support the bill.