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FOR RELEASE: January 31 , 2008
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

New Tobacco Cessation Benefit is Model for Employee Health Care

A new benefit to assist and promote tobacco cessation among state employees enrolled in the HealthChoice health care plan is being promoted as a model for cost-effective tobacco cessation coverage in all public and private group health plans across the state.

Effective Jan. 1, 2008, state employees enrolled in HealthChoice now have the option of accessing two full 90-day courses of any FDA-approved prescription tobacco cessation product each year, with no prior authorization required. Previously, members were limited to a maximum benefit of one course per lifetime with prior authorization required to access the benefit.

The Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board (OSEEGIB) approved the move to allow expanded tobacco cessation coverage in recognition that being tobacco-free is a valuable contribution to a healthier Oklahoma.

“We also recognized that expanding the tobacco cessation benefit would assist us in reducing the health care expenditures resulting from tobacco-related illnesses including heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic lung disease,” said Richard N. Womack, chair, OSEEGIB. “It’s clearly much less expensive to prevent these diseases than to pay for the medical care to treat them.”

“We are extremely pleased that OSEEGIB has taken this major step forward for a strong and healthy Oklahoma,” said Secretary of Health and Commissioner of Health Dr. Mike Crutcher. “We can’t expect to improve our state’s health status without continuing to aggressively address tobacco use.”

“Oklahoma’s progress in reducing health insurance costs is directly related to the health and wellness of our citizenry,” said Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland. “Research shows that health insurance plans that include tobacco cessation benefit both employee and employer in terms of cost and performance. As Oklahoma’s largest employer, I applaud OSEEGIB for their commitment to improving health and encourage all employers and health plans, for the benefit of our citizens and state, to follow their leadership.”

The benefit is available to the 150,000 active and retired HealthChoice members, as well as their enrolled dependents, who are at least 18 years old. Medications covered in the tobacco cessation benefit include Chantix, Nicotrol Inhaler, Nicotrol Nasal Spray, Bupropion SR 150 mg (generic for Zyban), and Buproban 150 mg (generic for Zyban).

Members who choose to quit tobacco are also encouraged to take advantage of the free professional “quit-coaches” available through the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). Studies on tobacco cessation have shown that a combination of medication and counseling is the most effective way to successfully quit. The Helpline is funded primarily by the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust and is available free of charge to all Oklahomans.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Oklahoma. About one in four Oklahoma adults smoke, and most want to quit. “As a major employer, the state of Oklahoma is setting the standard in assisting its employees and their families in quitting tobacco use by providing the expanded tobacco cessation benefit and by encouraging tobacco-free workplaces,” Crutcher said.

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