Carper Introduces Legislation to Help Americans Quit Smoking and Reduce Health Care Costs During Coronavirus Pandemic

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced legislation to expand tobacco cessation coverage to all Medicaid beneficiaries during the coronavirus pandemic. The Quit Because of COVID-19 Act (S.4524) will enhance tobacco cessation services for all Medicaid enrollees, giving Americans the best chance to successfully quit smoking, potentially help them avoid the most serious consequences of COVID-19 and reduce health costs associated with smoking. Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) has introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease that can cause severe illness or death in older individuals and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer. According to new research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, evidence also indicates that smoking is associated with a higher likelihood of COVID-19 progression, including increased severity, ICU admission or death. 

“Every day, public health experts are learning more about the coronavirus, how it attacks the body and which individuals are more susceptible to the illness. While studies will continue to be done, it is just common sense that we could and should be doing more to ensure that all Americans have better access to the evidence-based treatments that have been proven effective in helping individuals quit smoking,” said Senator Carper. “It’s especially important that these resources are readily available to Medicaid enrollees who have disproportionately higher rates of smoking. There is no better time to be doing all that we can to help smokers kick the habit for good.” 

While all state Medicaid programs cover some level of tobacco cessation services, many do not cover all evidence-based tobacco cessation services. Public health experts believe that improved access to tobacco cessation is an effective way to improve health outcomes and reduce costs. After Massachusetts expanded Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation and conducted a campaign to increase awareness of this coverage, smoking rates in the Massachusetts Medicaid program decreased from 38 percent to 28 percent over two-and-a-half years. For every $1 that Massachusetts spent on its tobacco cessation benefit, $3.12 in health care savings were achieved.

Senator Carper’s bill is supported by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Additionally, 59 advocacy groups have signed a letter of support for Senator Carper’s bill.

“The American Lung Association is pleased to support Senator Carper’s ‘Quit Because of COVID–19 Act,’” said Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “This bill will make it easier for millions of low-income Americans to quit tobacco use, improving their health and reducing their risk of the most severe effects of COVID-19.”

“The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids strongly supports the Quit Because of COVID-19 Act, and we applaud Senator Carper for his leadership in introducing this bill to ensure that all Medicaid and CHIP enrollees have access to proven tobacco cessation treatments at this critical time. Since tobacco users are at greater risk of severe complications from COVID-19, this legislation couldn’t be more timely and will help to combat this deadly pandemic. It will help to reduce health disparities and save lives, especially as Medicaid enrollees smoke at more than twice the rate of adults with private health insurance,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.


“Tobacco use continues to threaten public health, with evidence indicating that smokers and vapers are at higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19. Medicaid enrollees have disproportionately high rates of smoking, yet many state Medicaid programs do not cover all evidence-based tobacco cessation, and barriers make it hard for individuals to access the services they need. This bill gives Medicaid beneficiaries the best shot at quitting a deadly habit and reducing the risk of serious COVID-19 related complications,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.


“Even when we are not facing a global pandemic, pediatricians do everything in their power to protect children and adolescents from dangerous tobacco products, which harm the developing lungs and weaken the immune system. The continued spread of a highly contagious respiratory illness makes the need for our young patients to quit smoking and vaping all the more urgent. The American Academy of Pediatrics applauds Senator Carper for introducing the Quit Because of COVID-19 Act, which will ensure young people receive coverage for therapies to help them quit tobacco products, and is calling on Congress to advance the bill without delay,” said American Academy of Pediatrics President Sally Goza, MD, FAAP.


“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to make clear the inequities in access to health care, including access to comprehensive, effective tobacco cessation interventions through Medicaid,” said Lisa Lacasse, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network president. “Smoking rates among all Medicaid enrollees are currently twice that of those on private insurance, yet individuals on Medicaid often cannot get the help they need to quit. In order to address health disparities, especially cancer disparities, we must work to ensure individuals have access to all FDA-approved cessation medications and counseling. The legislation Senator Tom Carper is proposing is an important step in that direction,” said Lisa Lacasse, President, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.


Specifically, The Quit Because of COVID-19 Act will: 


  • Extend tobacco cessation coverage with no cost-sharing for the duration and two years after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency with a 100% Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP). Covered services would include those services determined to be effective in the Public Health Service’s clinical practice guidelines for treating tobacco use and dependence, including individual, group and phone-based cessation counseling and all seven FDA-approved medications. 
  • Reduce barriers to accessing tobacco cessation services like prior authorization for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency 
  • Provide enhanced federal matching to cover 100% of the cost of state outreach campaigns to educate providers and Medicaid enrollees regarding Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation services for the duration of the public health emergency