For Immediate Release - December 08, 2010

Heart Attack Hospitalizations Drop by Half among MassHealth Members Who Use Quit-Smoking Benefit

Sharp decrease in hospitalizations seen as a victory for health care reform

BOSTON - The Patrick-Murray Administration announced today that the risk of heart attack hospitalizations dropped by 46 percent among MassHealth members who used a smoking cessation benefit made available through the Commonwealth's historic health care reform efforts, according to a new study published today in the online journal PLoS Medicine, a publication of the Public Library of Science. This dramatic decline was evident in the first year after use of the benefit. The risk of hospitalization for other acute coronary heart disease diagnoses dropped by 49 percent in the first year after use of the benefit.

"These dramatic results demonstrate how the Commonwealth's health care reform efforts have made a difference in just a short amount of time," said Governor Deval Patrick. "By making a comprehensive smoking cessation benefit available to MassHealth members, we have significantly reduced the number of expensive hospitalizations - helping people lead healthier lives and saving taxpayer dollars."

This is the first time the health effect of the MassHealth smoking cessation benefit has been analyzed in such depth. In the first two and a half years of the benefit, over 75,000 MassHealth members used it to try to quit smoking. This represents 40 percent of smokers on MassHealth, a level unprecedented in the nation. During the same two and a half year time period, the smoking rate among MassHealth members fell by 26 percent. Cost savings are being studied and will likely be significant.

Previous studies have shown that coronary heart disease is the first diagnosis to show improvement when a person quits smoking. The researchers who conducted the new study found no significant decreases in hospitalization rates for respiratory diagnoses or seven other diagnostic groups evaluated.

"This study demonstrates that the Commonwealth's efforts to help people quit smoking are a sound investment," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby. "It's clear that MassHealth's smoking cessation benefit has had a very real, positive health impact for people across the state, while at the same time lowering health care costs."

MassHealth and the Department of Public Health's Tobacco Cessation & Prevention Program worked together to design a barrier-free benefit that includes all FDA-approved medications to quit smoking and behavioral counseling. Beginning in July 2006, MassHealth began providing coverage of smoking cessation as part of the state's health care reform initiative. The Commonwealth promoted the new benefit through radio and transit ads and outreach to MassHealth members and health care professionals. The benefit was introduced into an environment that encourages quitting smoking: Massachusetts has smoke-free workplaces, relatively high cigarette taxes, and a non-smoking social norm, all of which contribute to smokers wanting to quit.

"Smoking rates among this population had been steady for the past decade. Reducing smoking rates among our members is a top priority, and after only two and a half years of offering cessation services, the smoking rate has declined by nearly 26 percent," said Medicaid Director Terry Dougherty. "By providing MassHealth members with barrier-free access to tobacco cessation services, we will see cost savings from a decrease in spending for tobacco-related illnesses. Given that these costs are truly avoidable, introducing this benefit has both a personal impact to our members and frees up funds for other necessary purposes."

"Providing comprehensive tobacco cessation services to smokers and publicizing them is clearly important," Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach said. "We know that smokers who get support and use stop-smoking medicines like the patch are more than twice as likely to be able to quit for good as those who try to quit on their own."

Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of illness and death in the Commonwealth. More than 8,000 Massachusetts residents die annually from the effects of smoking, and tobacco use is associated with $4.3 billion in excess health care costs in Massachusetts each year. In Massachusetts, 77 percent of adult cigarette smokers want to quit, 60 percent of smokers have tried to quit within the past year, and 44 percent report that they plan to quit in the next 30 days.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program; Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital; and MassHealth collaborated on the study, which was published today in the online journal PLoS Medicine. The report is available online at: www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000375.

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