State Lauds Tobacco Cessation Plan's Physical, Fiscal ROI

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, a new insurance benefit to offer more tobacco cessation assistance to state employees has, in its first six months, helped an estimated 570 state workers successfully quit using tobacco. The agency says this action has resulted in about $2.2 million in annual savings, or $3,800 per successful quitter, through reduced health care costs and increased employee productivity.

The new benefit became effective Jan. 1, when the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board (OSEEGIB) began offering expanded tobacco cessation coverage as part of an effort to promote a healthier state employee workforce and reduce costs. Thus far, OSEEGIB's investment in providing the expanded coverage has totaled about $367,000, or $148 per recipient, the department said, basing the estimated savings on the latest research on lower medical costs and higher productivity among workers.

"These savings represent a six-fold return on the state's investment and will continue to accrue each year," said Dr. Mike Crutcher, Oklahoma's Secretary of Health and Commissioner of Health. "This should be a call to action for all health plans and employers to help workers quit tobacco. It's clear that physical health and fiscal health go hand-in-hand."

State workers enrolled in the HealthChoice group insurance plan have the option of receiving two full 90-day courses of any FDA-approved prescription tobacco cessation product each year. Participants may also choose to call the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline (1-800-QUIT-NOW) to further improve their chances of success by working with a personal quit coach to overcome triggers related to nicotine addiction. The Helpline provides free tobacco cessation assistance to all Oklahomans.

"Health insurance costs are directly related to the health and wellness of our citizenry," said Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland. "For the benefit of our citizens and state, all health plans and employers would certainly do well to follow OSEEGIB's lead."

OSEEGIB Chair Richard N. Womack added, "This simply makes good business sense. It's much less expensive to prevent heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lung disease than to pay for all the medical care to treat these diseases. Most smokers are already trying to quit and a little help goes a long way."

Tobacco cessation coverage is one of several recommendations in a new toolkit prepared for Oklahoma employers titled Make It Your Business for a Strong and Healthy Oklahoma. The toolkit guides employers through the process of creating fiscally and physically fit businesses and assists them in qualifying for recognition as a "Certified Healthy Business," a fast-growing program co-sponsored by the State Chamber, the Oklahoma Academy, and the State Turning Point Council.

The Oklahoma Department of Health says tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the state, where about one in four adults smoke. In any given year, most make at least one serious attempt to completely quit smoking, the agency said.

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