Oregon Health: Quitters are winners and are now covered

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By CHARLES BENTZ, MD

Maybe you want to quit smoking because you just know it is time. For quitters in Oregon, help is here.

In Oregon, as of January 1, a new law requires health insurers to cover smokers who want to quit.  This new law now requires your health insurer to cover tobacco use cessation benefits.   Now private insurance will allow you at least $500 worth of benefits for access to and coverage of basic treatments, programs and services.  Medicaid, Oregon Health Plan and Medicare continue to cover benefits to quit the smoking addiction.

While tobacco use is declining in Oregon, as many as 17 percent, or approximately 487,540, of Oregonians use tobacco.   In Marion County, 17.2 percent of adults smoke cigarettes, according to 2007 data estimates from the Oregon Department of Human Services.   Statewide, about 16 percent of 11th graders smoke, according to Oregon DHS.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S.  Tobacco use takes a significant toll on smokers’ bodies; approximately 1,200 people die prematurely in the United States each day from smoking-related illnesses. More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by illegal drugs, firearms, alcohol, and motor vehicles combined.

Quitting smoking is difficult; many smokers try to quit smoking multiple times in their lifetime. Smokers will try to quit 6 to 9 times, on average, over their lifetime.  While many smokers understand the health effects of smoking and want to quit, it’s difficult for them to do so because nicotine addiction is a chronic, relapsing medical condition that often requires both medication and support to overcome.  Seven in 10 smokers want to quit but only three to five percent are successful when they try to quit without treatment or counseling.

This new Oregon law will  help remove one important barrier that hinders a smoker or tobacco user from quitting, which is the out of pocket expense of most tobacco cessation programs.  Beside options now covered by your insurance such as prescriptions, you can find inexpensive over-the-counter options such as the nicotine patch, lozenges, and nicotine gum to assist in quit attempts.

For free, you can make a call to the support program offered through the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW).   Now you can quit. Now it’s covered.

Charles Bentz, M.D., is a tobacco cessation researcher and is the medical director of the new tobacco cessation program in Oregon. He also has an internal medicine practice.

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