August 29, 2010

Medicare To Offer Counseling To Help Smokers Quit

Medicare plans to help about 4.5 million people in the U.S. kick the habit by providing counseling, according to a recent Associated Press (AP) report.

Medicare's chief medical officer Dr. Barry Straube says that it is never too late to quit, even for lifelong smokers.

"The elderly can respond to smoking cessation counseling even if they have been smoking for 30 years or more," Straube told AP. "We do know we can see a reduction in the death rate and complications from smoking-related illnesses."

Medicare pays out tens of billions of dollars every year to smoking related illnesses.  Straube believes the company will have spent $800 billion between 1995 and 2015.

Medicare already covers drugs used to help smokers quit, as well as counseling for those that have developed smoking-related illnesses.  However, the program will expand the benefit to cover up to eight counseling sessions a year for people who wish to quit smoking.

President Barack Obama's health care law will also offer counseling next year for preventative services, helping to eliminate the cost of co-payments.

Straube said that older smokers often do not get as much attention from doctors as younger ones.  "They just figure, 'Well, it's too late,'" Straube told AP, that the damage is already done. That may start to change now.

About one in five people among the U.S. population smoke, compared to about one in 10 seniors.  Smokers aged 65 and older present a medical paradox.

Older smokers are more likely to be seriously hooked on nicotine and less likely to attempt quitting.  However, research shows that their odds of success are greater if they try to give up the habit.

Older smokers that receive counseling are more likely to quit than those who only get standard medical care.  One study found that those elderly heart attack patients who received counseling to help quit smoking were more likely to be alive five years later.

It is unclear why younger smokers have a harder time quitting than older smokers.

Some experts believe that older smokers are more motivated, perhaps from seeing a loved one die of cancer or heart disease, or by recognizing how the cigarette habit has affected their own body.

Straube has his own theory: "They're under less stress," he told AP. "They are not working anymore, and they have more time."


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