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By Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby 

Some of you may have heard the great news last week from George Washington University, which released a study showing that that for every dollar MassHealth spends helping its members quit smoking, it saves the Commonwealth $3.12 in expenses for hospitalizations due to acute cardiovascular conditions. This remarkable return on investment is a victory the Commonwealth at large and reflects the positive impact of Massachusetts health care reform. It also demonstrates that investing in prevention reaps cost savings much sooner than anticipated.

The GW study was based on analyses of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and other previously published health studies.  It estimated cost savings for cardiovascular-related hospitalizations and did not include other costly longer-term illnesses caused by tobacco, such as cancer. A decline in cardiovascular hospitalizations and the associated cost savings were evident just a little over a year after smokers’ use of the benefit.

Clearly, investing in prevention strategies is essential to health care cost containment as we move forward with health care reform in Massachusetts.

MassHealth and the Department of Public Health (DPH) Tobacco Cessation & Prevention Program worked together to design a barrier-free benefit that includes all FDA-approved medications to quit smoking and behavioral counseling.  MassHealth has made this benefit available to its members since July 2006 as part of health care reform.

In making the announcement about this study, Governor Deval Patrick said, “While we have always known that helping people quit smoking is an investment in their health, this study shows that our efforts are also a sound financial investment for the Commonwealth, This represents another positive outcome of health care reform in Massachusetts.”

A major component of the success of this benefit is how MassHealth and DPH promoted it: through radio and transit ads and targeted outreach to MassHealth members and health care professionals. Massachusetts already had smoke-free workplaces, had a relatively high cigarette tax at the time the benefit was introduced, and has cultivated a non-smoking social norm, all of which have contributed to smokers wanting to quit.

The study’s findings are based on an independent assessment conducted by researchers from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, led by Professor Leighton Ku, and funded by Partnership for Prevention, a nonprofit organization that supports evidence-based public health prevention efforts.   The study was published in the peer-reviewed online journal PLoS One, at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0029665.

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