Employers Target Smoking To Control Health Care Costs
Employers increasingly are paying for worker smoking cessation programs as a way to reduce health costs, the New York Times reports.
According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust, one in three companies with more than 200 workers that provide health benefits offered such programs in 2006 and, among smaller companies, one in 12 offer smoking cessation assistance.
The programs are another example -- along with other corporate wellness initiatives, such as diabetes and weight management programs -- "of how private employers are taking health care reform into their own hands, even as politicians continue to debate proposals and tactics in Washington and on the campaign trail," the Times reports.
Steven Schroeder, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at UC-San Francisco, said the number of businesses offering cessation programs "is going up even while firms are cutting back on medical benefits" in general to limit costs.
Federal health data show that spending as much as $900 to provide workers with nicotine patches at no cost, prescription drugs to reduce withdrawal symptoms and telephone counseling sessions "can more than offset the estimated $16,000 or more in additional lifetime medical bills" generated by a typical smoker, according to the Times.
Research also has shown that smoking cessation programs that include counseling have long-term success rates of 15% to 35%, according to Michael Fiore, a professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin and chair of the federal Public Health Service's guideline panel on smoking cessation (Freudenheim, New York Times, 10/26).