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Mass. Smoking Program for Poor Seen as Health Reform Model

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Federal lawmakers say that a Massachusetts initiative to give free smoking-cessation aid to poor residents could serve as a model for national healthcare reform, the New York Times reported Dec. 16.

During the first two years of the program, the smoking rate among low-income Massachusetts residents fell 10 percent, from 38 percent in 2006 to about 28 percent in 2008. Hospital visits for heart attacks and emergency-room visits for asthma attacks also declined.

Prior to 2006, the smoking rate among Medicaid recipients in Massachusetts — which is much higher than the statewide average — had not fallen in a decade despite declining smoking rates in the general population.

Citing the findings, some federal lawmakers want to see a similar program implemented nationwide in the Medicaid program, and have proposed amendments to the Senate's healthcare-reform bill. “This is one demonstrable way we can actually bend the cost curve and keep people healthy,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

The Massachusetts initiative is part of the state's own healthcare-reform project, which requires all residents to have health insurance.

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