Medicare Patches and Hotline Help Seniors Quit Smoking

Seniors trying to quit smoking can be helped by Medicare-supplied nicotine patches and a Medicare hotline, according to new research conducted to estimate the cost of such a Medicare program. The study revealed that close to 20% of seniors who tried the program quit smoking for a year.

“From a public health perspective, it works,” said study lead author Geoffrey Joyce, a senior economist with RAND, which provides research services to the government. While most antismoking efforts focus on younger people, “Nobody has really paid attention to the elderly,” Joyce said.

Even inveterate smokers among seniors can benefit from quitting: a 1986 study showed that a senior who smokes 20 or more cigarettes a day and quits at age 65 could expect to add two to three years to his or her life.

The question being asked by Medicare meanwhile was—is it cost-effective to help seniors quit smoking? This new study was published in the current online issue of the journal Health Services Research.

7,354 seniors participated in the study, and all had enrolled in smoking cessation programs in 7 states between 2002 and 2003. The researchers divided the seniors into 4 groups—one group was given a brochure on smoking cessation; one group was paid for four counselling sessions with doctors; another group was given counseling and a nicotine patch, or the smoking-cessation drug bupropion. Thje last group used a nicotine patch and a hotline.

The one-year quit rates for the first three groups were 10%, 14% and 16%. For the last group the rate was 19%, and participants did not tuch cigarettes for the ensuing year.

Joyce said the difference between the 10 percent quit rate in the brochure group and the 19 percent quit rate in the hotline and patch group was significant: “You can double quit rates with a telephone quitline and a free patch.” Helen Ann Halpin, director of the Center for Health and Public Policy Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, said the study results suggest that “older smokers are motivated to quit and that quitlines and pharmacotherapy greatly increase the odds of successfully quitting.” She added that all 50 states now have a quitline for smokers of all ages.

As for Medicare’s need for cost-effective care, “what we don’t know is how much money this really saves if saving money is your goal,” Joyce said. Still, it seems clear that “if you just look at it from a strict budget perspective, it’s not going to save Medicare a lot one way or another.”

Source: Health Behavior News Service, August, 2008


  1. Rudolph Madray says

    it seems clear that “if you just look at it from a strict budget perspective, it’s not going to save Medicare a lot one way or another

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