An ounce of prevention

Today's Boston Globe reports on a feature of the Massachusetts universal health care law that may be replicated at the national level: MassHealth — the Massachusetts Medicaid program — has been covering the costs for smoking cessation counseling and medications for eligible enrollees.

Using the data available, researchers were able to associate the roll-out of these services with a significant drop in smoking rates — a drop not seen among the small percentage of Bay Staters who remain uninsured.

Not only that, but there are cost savings involved.  Fewer health care services are required by nonsmokers — notably, less asthma and heart attack related services.

Thanks to aggressive promotion of the services through a variety of channels, 40% of eligible smokers enrolled, as opposed to the 5-10% that the program anticipated.

The success of this program had previously been announced by the Commonwealth in June.

Bottom line from the Globe:

Although the study being released today does not assess whether the stop-smoking campaign reduced health care costs overall, the findings led some advocates to call on the state to make all health plans – public and private – provide cessation programs with low co-pays and deductibles.

As health reform is further debated at the national level, we need to focus on the investments that may be made in the nation's health that will yield monetary as well as quality returns, and this initiative is certainly one that is worthy of closer examination.

David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting


  1. says

    Wow, that’s really great news. I wish that we as a culture were more willing to make investments that yield large, long-term results, rather than small immediate turnarounds. Healthcare and education being great 2 great examples of how upfront investment will save you lots in the future.