Making it Easier to Quit Smoking

By Don Berwick, M.D., Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

By now, everyone knows that smoking and tobacco use just aren’t good for you. But that knowledge can be very abstract. If it isn’t apparent that tobacco use is hurting you now, why quit?

Well, anyone who has ever battled lung cancer or lived with emphysema – or watched a loved one experience those conditions – knows that the consequences of smoking and tobacco aren’t abstract at all. And some people don’t know that tobacco is a major risk factor for heart disease, just as it is for cancer.

So, when I tell you that almost half a million people have died from tobacco use in the past year, that probably seems abstract too. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that cigarette smoking alone is responsible for 443,000 deaths per year.)

Think of it this way: that is six times as many people as attended the Super Bowl last year.

While it isn’t a new thing to say that tobacco is bad for your health, it is new for Medicare to pay for a smoker or tobacco user to get cessation counseling before they have symptoms of resulting disease.

Today, under a new coverage decision, anyone who smokes or uses tobacco and is covered by Medicare will be able to receive tobacco cessation counseling from a qualified physician or other Medicare-recognized practitioner who can work with them to help them quit. (All people with Medicare will continue to have access to tobacco cessation prescription medication through the Medicare Prescription Drug Program.)

For the estimated 5.5 million people with Medicare who are smokers and may be looking to quit, the new benefit lowers a potential barrier to treatment. Quitting reduces the risk of death from coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive lung disease, or lung or other cancers.

You can learn about other kinds of preventive services on healthcare.gov; the Affordable Care Act makes important strides in placing an emphasis on getting appropriate screenings and moving the overall health care system toward prevention-based model.