HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, December 24, 2004

Medicare's New Coverage for Smoking Cessation Programs

Here's a health maintenance program worthy of the label.  On Dec. 23 CMS announced it was going to start covering the costs of smoking cessation programs for seniors with health conditions related to their smoking.  As reported by Robert Pear in today's New York Times:

Dr. Mark B. McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said: "Millions of our beneficiaries have smoked for many years and are now experiencing heart problems, lung problems and other diseases that smoking can cause. Just about all of them will be eligible for the new coverage. You're never too old to quit smoking and to get benefits of quitting."

The new coverage will be available to Medicare beneficiaries who have illnesses caused or complicated by smoking. These include heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, emphysema, weak bones, blood clots and cataracts, which together account for the bulk of Medicare spending.

Medicare will also cover counseling services for beneficiaries who take any of the drugs whose effectiveness can be compromised by the use of tobacco. These medications include insulin and drugs for high blood pressure, seizures and depression.

Over time, improvements in the health of beneficiaries should be manifest, along with savings to the Medicare program.  Smoking is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the United States.  HHS' press release has more details; the CMS background study and recommendations are here.

Could this mean that Medicare is finally committed to the idea that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?  Could this mean that Medicare coverage for physicals, prevention, and wellness visits for seniors could be far behind?  Stay tuned . . . .  [tm]

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