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Study: $1 Spent On Smoking Cessation Saves $3 In Health Costs

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A program that helped low-income Massachusetts residents stop smoking saved three dollars for every dollar spent. That's the conclusion of a study from George Washington University published online today in the journal PLoS One.

"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," said Governor Deval Patrick in a statement. "This represents another positive outcome of health reform in Massachusetts."

The state's 2006 health coverage law added a smoking cessation benefit for Medicaid and let members chose from any FDA approved option.  The state promoted the program on the radio and in bus ads.

George Washington University researchers found that members who quit saved three times the cost of the program in fewer heart-related hospitalizations after just over one year.  The study does not take into account the benefits of avoiding cancer or other long term smoking related illnesses.

Lois Keithly, who directs the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program, says the study proves prevention programs save money.

"These findings are so strong that they should serve as an encouragement for all the insurance plans to provide a generous cessation benefit and promote the benefit so that smokers know that it exists," she said.

Keithly adds that 10% of health care spending in Massachusetts is on smoking-related diseases and that smoking kills 8,000 residents a year.

This study has some added weight because it's one of just a few that conclude that the state's landmark health care law is making people healthier and saving money.  To date there has been a lot of speculation, but very little proof.

This program aired on January 7, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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