Insurers would be required to cover smoking cessation treatment under bill passed by Senate committee

02/15/2017 11:54 AM

FRANKFORT — Legislation that would require insurers to cover smoking cessation programs unanimously passed the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 89 would mandate that insurers offer any tobacco cessation program or medicine that passes muster with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Preventative Services Task Force.

Such offerings could not be time-limited under the bill, which also bars insurers from charging out-of-pocket costs for anti-tobacco services.

Some insurers in the state already cover smoking cessation treatment, “but coverage is not always the only issue,” said Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Louisville Republican who’s sponsoring SB 89.

“Ensuring that Kentuckians have barrier-free access is the critical missing link,” she said.

“Using so-called cost and utilization management tools like prior authorization and step therapy cost lives and cost taxpayers a lot of money. It also hinders the critically important provider-patient relationship, so commonsense says that if we give Kentuckians the tools to quit smoking, their health will improve and they and their insurers will spend a lot less on health care.”

Kentucky has the nation’s highest smoking rate at 28 percent, and tobacco accounts for about 9,000 deaths a year here, according to testimony in Wednesday’s committee meeting.

Dr. Shawn Jones, of Paducah, offered some perspective on the latter figure and argued that passing SB 89 would help tobacco users quit their habits.

He called smoking in state “nothing short of a catastrophic pandemic of gargantuan proportions — and that does not do it justice.”

“The Institute of Medicine reported that tobacco use was the largest environmental cause of death and disease in the United States, claiming 400,000 lives annually in the U.S., killing more people than AIDS, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, homicide, suicide, motor vehicle crashes and fires combined,” Jones said in his testimony.

“If you find that hard to believe, welcome to the world of being a physician in Kentucky.”

The bill passed without a single vote in opposition, sending it to the Senate floor.

While he voted in favor of the SB 89, Senator Reginald Thomas said he would like to see the General Assembly go further to lessen the ills of tobacco use.

“It seems to me that if we really are serious about addressing this problem, what we really need is a smoke-free ban in Kentucky, period,” said Thomas, noting that Lexington’s economy hasn’t suffered under its anti-smoking ordinance.

Passing a statewide indoor smoking ban hasn’t gained traction in the legislature. Adams has sponsored previous efforts at passing such a bill in the Senate.

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