For the nearly 900,000 smokers in Kentucky, there has never been a better time to quit.
During the 2017 legislative session, the General Assembly passed much needed legislation to equip individuals addicted to tobacco with the tools they need to quit successfully. The smoking cessation coverage bill (Senate Bill 89) removes barriers that limit patient access to evidence-based cessation treatments.
Patient advocates across the state, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Kentucky Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, worked hard to bring this measure to passage.
As of June 29, the legislation is in effect, and now it is incumbent on us to ensure everyone in the health care system—patients, providers, insurers, billers, coders—is properly educated on what it means.
The bill requires commercial health plans and Medicaid plans in Kentucky to provide barrier-free coverage for all tobacco cessation treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force.
Although they are not required to do so under the new legislation, we encourage the Kentucky State Employee Health Plan and all employer-sponsored plans (also known as ERISA plans) to offer a comprehensive tobacco cessation benefit, as well.
With the new bill in effect, health plans must cover over-the-counter treatments (nicotine transdermal patches, lozenges, gum); prescription treatments (inhalers, nasal spray, Bupropion SR, Varenicline); and all three forms of counseling (individual, group and telephone).
Furthermore, insurers cannot impose conditions that restrict patient access, such as counseling requirements for medications, limits on the duration of services and copayments and other out-of-pocket cost sharing.
Many patients run into obstacles and inconsistencies when trying to obtain cessation treatments, making it difficult to stay motivated to quit. The new legislation aims to streamline and simplify the process.
This is exciting news for Kentucky tobacco users who previously may not have been able to access the necessary treatments to break from the addiction for good. And the positive impacts of this legislation don’t end there.
Tobacco users are susceptible to serious and costly conditions such as lung cancer and heart disease. But all Kentuckians, through higher premiums and taxes, pay the price. The smoking cessation coverage bill protects taxpayers by empowering tobacco users who are motivated to quit with the tools and resources they need to be successful.
A comprehensive tobacco cessation benefit also means a more productive and healthy workforce. Decreasing the number of Kentuckians who use tobacco will help reduce the significant financial burden many employers face.
Studies show that more than 70 percent of smokers want to quit—they just haven’t always had access to effective treatments. This new legislation empowers patients with the proper tools, and ultimately, paves the way for a healthier Kentucky.
If you are interested in ending tobacco addiction, now is a great time to speak with your physician, explore your options and develop a plan that works for you.
Erica Palmer Smith is Kentucky government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.