Blunt Rochester Introduces Quit Because of COVID-19 Act

WASHINGTON – Today, Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) introduced legislation that would expand tobacco cessation coverage to all Medicaid beneficiaries during the COVID-19 public health emergency. 


Enrollees in Medicaid have disproportionately high rates of smoking – twice the rate of those with private health insurance -- which places them at a higher risk of experiencing severe complications from COVID-19, an acute respiratory disease that attacks the lungs. While all state Medicaid programs cover some level of tobacco cessation services, many do not cover all evidence-based tobacco cessation services and include barriers to accessing these services. Improved access to tobacco cessation is an effective way to reduce the health and medical costs associated with smoking. After Massachusetts enhanced its Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation and conducted a campaign to increase awareness of this coverage, smoking rates in its Medicaid program decreased from 38 percent to 28 percent over two-and-a-half years. For every $1 that Massachusetts spent on its tobacco cessation benefit, $3.12 in health care savings were achieved. 


 Enhancing Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation services will give Medicaid beneficiaries the best chance to quit successfully, potentially help them avoid the most serious consequences of COVID-19 and reduce health costs associated with smoking. The Quit Because of COVID-19 Act will improve Medicaid beneficiaries’ access to comprehensive tobacco cessation coverage with no cost-sharing and promote smoking cessation through public health education campaigns during the public health emergency. The bill is supported by The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. 


“Medicaid enrollees have disproportionately high rates of smoking, which puts them at a higher risk of experiencing serious complications from COVID-19,” said Rep. Blunt Rochester, a member of the House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee. “This enhanced coverage will not only improve access to comprehensive cessation services, but it will help beneficiaries’ avoid serious health complications while reducing the health care costs associated with smoking. There couldn’t be a more critical time to make sure that everyone has the best chance to quit smoking successfully.”


“The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids strongly supports the Quit Because of COVID-19 Act, and we applaud Congresswoman Blunt Rochester for her leadership in introducing this bill to ensure that all Medicaid enrollees have access to the full array of proven tobacco cessation treatments at this critical time. Since tobacco users are at greater risk of severe complications from COVID-19, this legislation couldn’t be more timely and will help to combat this deadly pandemic. It will also help to reduce health disparities and improve the health of Medicaid enrollees, who smoke at more than twice the rate of adults with private health insurance,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.


“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to make clear the inequities in access to health care among communities of color, including access to comprehensive, effective tobacco cessation interventions through Medicaid,” said Lisa Lacasse, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network President. “Smoking rates among all Medicaid enrollees are currently twice that of those on private insurance, yet individuals on Medicaid often cannot get the help they need to quit. We are pleased that Representative Blunt Rochester is proposing this legislation which is an important step toward reducing these disparities and improving the health of communities that need it most.”


“Quitting smoking is the single best thing a person can do to improve their health,” said Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “This bill will make it easier for millions of low-income Americans to quit, improving their health and reducing their risk of the most severe effects of COVID-19. The American Lung Association is eager to see this bill become law.”  


“Tobacco use continues to threaten public health, with evidence indicating that smokers and vapers are at higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19. Medicaid enrollees have disproportionately high rates of smoking, yet many state Medicaid programs do not cover all evidence-based tobacco cessation, and barriers make it hard for individuals to access the services they need. This bill gives Medicaid beneficiaries the best shot at quitting a deadly habit and reducing the risk of serious COVID-19 related complications. We are grateful for Congresswoman Rochester’s leadership and urge swift passage of this important bill,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association


 “Even when we are not facing a global pandemic, pediatricians do everything in their power to protect children and adolescents from dangerous tobacco products, which harm the developing lungs and weaken the immune system. The continued spread of a highly contagious respiratory illness makes the need for our young patients to quit smoking and vaping all the more urgent. The American Academy of Pediatrics applauds Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) for introducing the Quit Because of COVID-19 Act, which will ensure young people receive coverage for therapies to help them quit tobacco products, and is calling on Congress to advance the bill without delay,” said the American Academy of Pediatrics President Sally Goza, MD, FAAP


 The Quit Because of COVID-19 Act will: 

  • Extend tobacco cessation coverage with no cost-sharing for the duration and two years after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency with a 100% Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP). Covered services would include those services determined to be effective in the Public Health Service’s clinical practice guidelines for treating tobacco use and dependence, including individual, group and phone-based cessation counseling and all seven FDA-approved medications. 
  • Reduce barriers to accessing tobacco cessation services like prior authorization for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency 
  • Provide enhanced federal matching to cover 100% of the cost of state outreach campaigns to educate providers and Medicaid enrollees regarding Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation services for the duration of the public health emergency  


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