Smoking Cessation Benefits Improve in Oregon

Collaborative leads the way in establishing an effective standard of care


March 7, 2013 -- Oregonians save $400 million in healthcare costs every time the smoking rate drops by 1 percent, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. To help people quit, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 734 in 2009, requiring health insurers to spend at least $500 per person on tobacco cessation programs. By enacting that law, 70 percent of Oregonians -- 15 and older -- had such coverage. Yet, advocates recognized the gap between having benefit coverage and having benefits that actually made a difference.

Since then, the Oregon Health Authority, Department of Human Services, and the OHSU Smoking Cessation Center, in partnership with the American Lung Association and the Oregon Coalition of Health Care Purchasers launched a collaborative, known as Helping Benefit Oregon Smokers, to help create a common set of benefit design recommendations.

“A benefit is useful only if it is used,” said Brett Hamilton, executive director of the Tobacco-Free Coalition of Oregon, a member of the collaborative. “And the fact is, there is no one-size-fits-all way to quit tobacco. That is why the recommendations encourage insurance providers to offer a menu of cessation treatment options to address the unique needs of each person seeking to quit. The ability to adjust treatments to individual needs will help more smokers be successful at quitting.”

Last month, the Oregon Health Authority released a case study conducted by Wendy Bjornson, director of the Smoking Cessation Center at Oregon Health & Science University, which provided an overview of the collaborative and considered the impact of SB734 and the cessation benefit recommendations on health insurers and employers.

What’s the impact? Tobacco cessation benefit coverage in Oregon has improved in the past three years, and such benefits have changed and improved in quality since 2010.

“We were pleased to see that health plans had both increased some of their benefits and services, and just as importantly, removed some of the obstacles that were keeping health plan members from using the benefit,” Bjornson said.

Passage of the Affordable Care Act and the Oregon initiative to transform healthcare has also moved these benefits further along.

“Both the Affordable Care Act and Oregon’s healthcare transformation initiative emphasize prevention with some specific requirements for tobacco cessation,” Bjornson noted. “The collaborative’s recommendations fit right into these new initiatives so that health plans could see that basically what we recommend and what the federal and state initiatives emphasize are the same.”

Dr. Mel Kohn, state health officer and director of the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division, said the efforts of the collaborative have made a difference in giving smokers a great chance to successfully quit.

"The recommendations are an important tool for addressing healthcare costs and the burden of tobacco-related disease, particularly as we move forward with innovative solutions to improve population health through the implementation of health system transformation in Oregon," said Dr. Mel Kohn, state health officer and director of the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Division.

But even with the success of SB734 and the influence of the collaborative, Bjornson acknowledged more work needs to be done to help Oregonians break the habit.

“Making changes within health care systems, especially as they are changing, is complicated. We need more information about how these benefits are actually reaching and helping smokers in order to help strengthen everyone’s benefits and reach our $400 million savings goal.”


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