Partnership for Prevention’s ActionToQuit summit for the New England area was held on October 19 in Framingham, Massachusetts. The event brought together organizational representatives, leaders, and advocates from six states to learn about and discuss tobacco cessation policy strategies. The summit was convened by the American Lung Association, which received a grant from Partnership for Prevention to develop an action plan for tobacco cessation in New England.
David Zauche, Senior Program Officer at Partnership for Prevention, presented on the ActionToQuit Program and addressed the impact of health reform on tobacco cessation policies. He emphasized the need to strengthen cessation coverage for Medicaid beneficiaries. As of 2010, federal health reform mandates that all pregnant women insured under Medicaid be eligible for cessation treatment at no cost to them. While this is a step forward, Partnership for Prevention advocates that this benefit be extended to all Medicaid subscribers, providing barrier free access to comprehensive treatments for all tobacco users.
The focus of this summit was the Massachusetts Medicaid benefit, which the other five New England states will attempt to replicate. Lois Keithly, Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program, and Ayesha Cammaerts, formerly of MassHealth’s Office of Clinical Affairs, presented information on the outstanding Massachusetts initiative, which shed light on several previously unanswered questions:
• If a tobacco cessation benefit is offered and promoted heavily, will a large number Medicaid subscribers use it?
• If they use the benefit, will a large number quit smoking?
• If this occurs, can there be positive short term benefits as well as long term?
The results were remarkable. Over a thirty month period 75,000 Medicaid subscribers in Massachusetts used the tobacco cessation benefit, and 33,000 quit smoking. The smoking rate for this population dropped from 38% to 28%, representing a 26% decrease. Additionally, significant decreases were seen in hospitalization rates for heart disease.
The key to the success of this program, at least in great measure, was the heavy statewide promotion of the benefit and aggressive encouragement of smokers to use it. Various media were used to reach the Medicaid population: television, radio and transit ads ran for over a year and there was direct education campaign to health care providers and medical societies. Consumer awareness of the cessation benefit in the Medicaid population reached 75%.
While the surprising success of the Massachusetts experience is unique, many states will begin to replicate the program in the near future. At this summit, teams of advocates from the other five New England states are already busy organizing their own state summits, action plans, and advocacy campaigns.