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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Would Smokers Quit if Their Insurance Covered it?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 2, 2011 at 2:47 PM

click to enlarge This guy will have a hard time quitting alone
  • This guy will have a hard time quitting alone

Last month, San Francisco's score on keeping the city smoke-free was elevated from average to slightly above average, thanks to Supervisor Eric Mar and his passion for nanny government.

But here is an even better, less obtrusive way for the government to help make the community free of nicotine: Get people to stop smoking. State Senator Leland Yee is making a second attempt at forcing health insurance companies to cover tobacco cessation. His first attempt was vetoed last year by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Under the bill, smokers could get counseling, over-the-counter products. patches, nasal sprays, inhalers, and gum -- anything that might help them kick the habit -- and their insurance companies will pick up the tab. If this is approved, California would be following in the footsteps of six other states.

Insurance companies offer very little incentives for smokers to quite. In some cases, they might provide coverage for medication that can be used only once during a person's lifetime.

Yee believes this would save thousands of lives and billions of dollars (in that order). He pointed to a recent study released by the American Lung Association that showed if smokers could quit, it would end up saving Americans $83 million in health-care costs. Smokers are costing the state $26 billion alone.

San Francisco has been unsuccessful in reducing its smoking rate over

the last few years. Roughly 13.5 percent of the population are smokers

-- a number that hasn't moved up or down in the last few years. The state's smoking rate is 14 percent, according to the California Department of Public Health.

But will smokers quit if they didn't have pay out of pocket for counseling, gum, and patches?

"Yes, definitely," said Darlene Bahrs, program director with the San Francisco-based Tobacco Free Project.

And she should know, since she has been working to help smokers quit since 1983. Bahrs pointed to Massachusetts, which saw a 10 percent drop in the number of smokers after passing a law in 2006 that forced insurance companies to cover smoking cessation.

But passing a law won't do much if people don't know about it.

"That's the catch -- insurance companies have not been transparent about letting people know what resources they have," Bahrs said.

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About The Author

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert was the Online News Editor for SF Weekly from 2010 to 2015. She's a Texas native and has a closet full of cowboy boots to prove it.


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