Georgia is the worst state in helping smokers to quit, in large part because of the lack of coverage for most Medicaid patients, according to a report from the American Lung Association.
In “Helping Smokers Quit: Tobacco Cessation Coverage 2011,” the association ranked Georgia first on the list of the “least quit-friendly states.”
Georgia is one of two states that do not provide tobacco-cessation coverage for patients on Medicaid who are not pregnant. There were four factors considered in the ranking, but “the first and the biggest is the Medicaid coverage because we know that people on Medicaid smoke at higher rates than the average population, so that is a really important piece,” said Jennifer Singleterry, the manager of cessation policy for the association and the lead author of the report.
More than 36 percent of adults on Medicaid smoke, compared with 22.7 percent for the general population, according to the report.
Smoking-related illnesses cost state Medicaid programs an average of $761 million in 2010, the report said.
“Smoking costs taxpayers a lot of money right now,” Singleterry said. “And it has for years. Georgia could see a lot of savings even if a small percentage of smokers on Medicaid quit. There would be a huge savings.”
The Georgia Department of Community Health, which oversees Medicaid in Georgia, said in an e-mail last month that providing the coverage would cost $13 million a year and that “there are no federal matching funds available,” which Singleterry said is not true.
Some relief might be available in the future. Advocates are fighting to get comprehensive tobacco cessation coverage included in the Essential Health Benefit that all plans will have to provide in the state insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act in 2014.
Medicaid programs in 2014 will no longer be able to exclude tobacco-cessation coverage, but Singleterry said states don’t have to wait until then.
“We’re encouraging states to start reaping these savings now, start saving lives and money now,” she said.