Expanded Medicare Coverage for Tobacco Cessation Counseling

Affordable Care Act Opens Door for Preventative Care Services

September 24, 2010 — Smoking and tobacco-related diseases are the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Diseases from smoking account for over 400,000 annual deaths in the US and consume an estimated 10% of Medicare’s annual budget. Yet Medicare only covered cessation counseling after an individual was diagnosed with a tobacco-related illness–counterproductive to the benefits of smoking cessation in the first place.

In an effort to improve accessibility to tobacco cessation services, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has extended Medicare coverage to include tobacco cessation counseling before the onset of a tobacco-related disease. The new coverage is set to go into effect on January 1, 2011. With tobacco being the leading cause of preventable illness and the cause of one in five deaths in the US, the expanded coverage extends a new opportunity for assistance in quitting to the over 5 million smokers covered by Medicare.

The increase in tobacco cessation coverage is part of the Affordable Care Act, effective Jan. 1, 2011. Medicare will cover preventive care services, including tobacco cessation counseling, to help prevent or catch illnesses before becoming life-threatening.

Quitting Smoking Leads to Immediate Health Benefits

According to the CDC, 70% of current smokers want to quit and 41% have tried within the preceding year. With the new help from extended Medicare coverage, more smokers will be able to quit and enjoy the following health improvements:

  • 20 Minutes After Quitting:
    • Your heart rate drops.
  • 12 hours After Quitting:
    • Carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • 2 Weeks to 3 Months After Quitting:
    • Your heart attack risk begins to drop.
    • Your lung function begins to improve.
  • 1 to 9 Months After Quitting:
    • Your coughing and shortness of breath decrease.
  • 1 Year After Quitting:
    • Your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.
  • 5 Years After Quitting:
    • Your risk of stroke is reduced to the risk of a nonsmoker’s 5-15 years after quitting.
  • 10 Years After Quitting:
    • Your lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker’s.
    • Your risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas decreases.
  • 15 Years After Quitting:
    • Your risk of coronary heart disease is back to that of a nonsmoker’s.

(Source: Within 20 Minutes of Quitting, CDC)

Preventing tobacco-related diseases through accessible treatment programs benefits smokers, non-smokers, their friends and families. This increase in Medicare benefits for smokers who want to quit is a positive step to help smokers break free from addiction by treating tobacco addiction like a disease.