Nicotine Patch, Gum Therapies Covered by Major Vt. Insurers

100,000 people eligible for first-in-nation statewide program

For immediate release:
April 10, 2003

News Media Contact:
Karen Garbarino
Tobacco Control Chief
Vermont Department of Health
802-862-8261

BURLINGTON — More than 100,000 Vermonters are now eligible for steeply discounted nicotine-replacement patches and nicotine-replacement gum as part of a first-in-the-nation statewide tobacco cessation insurance payment program.

The Vermont Department of Health, the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, and the state’s three major private insurance carriers — BlueCross BlueShield, Cigna, and MVP — announced the program Wednesday at a joint news conference held at the Fletcher Allen Health Care Office of Health Improvement.

The high cost of nicotine-replacement therapies have proven to be a major obstacle for Vermonters who want to quit smoking. Nicotine-replacement patches or gum each cost a little under $50 for a two-week supply. For people who smoke up to a pack a day, this can be more than the cost of smoking cigarettes. However, with the new statewide insurance payment program, eligible Vermonters who agree to use tobacco cessation counseling services can purchase nicotine-replacement patches or gum for $20 — almost 60 percent less than the retail value.

“I literally couldn’t afford to quit smoking without this program,” said 42-year-old Robert Woodworth who owns an automotive repair shop in Milton and is insured through his wife’s employer, Systems and Software, in Colchester. “After 29 years of smoking, this program made quitting an option for me.” Woodworth, whose father and grandfather both died from smoking-related emphysema, has been on the patch and smoke-free for six weeks.

With this new program, more than 100,000 insured Vermonters will be eligible to receive discounts on nicotine-replacement therapy. Previously, only uninsured and income-eligible Vermonters were able to receive discounted or free nicotine-replacement therapies through the Vermont Health Access Plan (VHAP).

“To achieve our goal of cutting smoking rates in Vermont in half by the year 2010, we have to reach out to our private insurance partners to overcome the significant financial obstacles of quitting an addictive substance like nicotine,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Paul Jarris. “Vermont is the first state in the nation to work collaboratively with major insurance companies to make quitting affordable for insured Vermonters.”

While the health and financial benefits to quitting smoking are clear, it is still tough. According to the American Cancer Society, it typically takes smokers five to seven quit attempts before successfully quitting. However, according to an October 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, using cessation resources, such as counseling and nicotine-replacement therapies like the patch or gum can double a person’s chances of quitting smoking successfully.

“As health-care providers, our members have been working hard to bring down the cost of nicotine replacement therapies,” said Bea Grause, president and CEO of the Vermont Association of Hospital and Health Systems. “To be able to announce this program that will save lives as well as money during Vermont Public Health Week is particularly rewarding.”

People who are covered by BlueCross BlueShield, Cigna, or MVP and are interested in this program should contact the Vermont Quit Line (1-877-YES-QUIT or 1-877-937-7848) to learn more.