Here's an easy way for Alaska to save money on the state's health care bills: Make a stronger push to encourage people on Medicaid, the health coverage for low-income residents, to quit using tobacco. Tobacco — smoking or dipping snoose — is the number one cause of preventable disease in the country.
As the New York Times reported last week, Massachusetts made a big cut in smoking rates among its tobacco-using Medicaid clients. The key was making anti-tobacco treatment -- prescription drugs and counseling -- available at virtually no cost to clients in the program. In the two-and-a-half years since that change, about one of every six tobacco-using Medicaid clients in Massachusetts quit smoking.
Fewer smokers means health costs will go down, especially in the Medicaid program. Poor people, such as those on Medicaid, smoke at much higher rates than the public at large, so they're more likely to have costly health problems that are covered at public expense.
In Alaska, Medicaid will pay for nicotine replacement drugs combined with counseling by a doctor or other medical practitioner. That combination approach is far and away the most effective, with a success rate of 20 percent to 40 percent, according to Andrea Thomas, with the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance.
Alaska is making it easier for Medicaid smokers to get help when they want to quit. Thomas says the state will drop a requirement that Medicaid has to pre-approve each prescription for anti-tobacco drugs.
To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.