Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Delaware, introduced on June 22 legislation that would expand tobacco cessation coverage to Medicaid beneficiaries during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

According to a release from Blunt Rochester’s office, 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 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% to 28% 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 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 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. 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.

It will also reduce barriers to accessing tobacco cessation services like prior authorization for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency; and 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.