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With smoking rates still high among low-income folks, Medicaid in WA to cover nicotine patches, etc.

Starting this week, Washington smokers covered by Medicaid can get more help quitting, including things like nicotine-replacement patches or gum.

Although smoking rates have declined sharply, the percentage of smokers remains high among low-income people, according to the state Department of Social and Health Service.

"The new benefit will make a real difference in the lives of people who can least afford to get help quitting smoking," state Health Secretary Mary Selecky, a Colville native, said last week.

The smoking rate in Washington has dropped 24 percent since 2000, when the state launched a tobacco-prevention program and began ramping up tobacco taxes. That works out to about 235,000 fewer smokers in Washington.

And since smokers tend to have more health problems – and the state is a health provider for thousands of primarily low-income people – fewer smokers tend to mean lower costs to taxpayers. (The federal Centers for Disease Control estimate that an average of 14 percent of Medicaid costs are related to smoking.)

The smoking decline in just the past eight years, DSHS estimates, will mean $2.1 billion in future health-cost savings. (NOTE: I'm still waiting to hear back from the state re: how much this change will cost.)

Even for those not on Medicaid, Washington provides a free "Tobacco Quit Line" – 1-800-QUIT-NOW or I-800-2NO-FUME in Spanish – for information, advice and "quit kits."

Since 2000, DSHS says, more than 100,000 people have called.

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