The Fiscal Times
: A Medicare program that has agreed to pay for counseling for seniors who smoke but are not yet sick could help the program, and America's health system, lower costs. "Smoking costs the U.S. economy $97 billion annually in lost productivity, in addition to the $96 billion a year in direct health care costs, according to [the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services]. Counseling coupled with smoking prevention drugs and devices are among the most cost-effective interventions in the disease prevention arsenal." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report last week that progress against smoking as a contributor to rising health costs may be slowing, however. "Between 2008 and 2010, funding for tobacco prevention programs was cut by 21 percent — from $717.7 million to $567.5 million — as states scrambled to fill recession-driven budget gaps with money from the tobacco industry settlement fund that was previously earmarked for tobacco control efforts." Still, a "Rand Corporation analysis of a Medicare demonstration projection estimated the total health care cost savings for the agency exceeded payments for the smoking cessation program within five years. 'The cost of these programs may be offset by reductions in medical expenses even when targeting older smokers,' the researchers concluded." In 2005, Medicare started paying for counseling for seniors who were already sick with smoking-related illnesses, the new demonstration program makes that counseling pre-emptive (Goozner, 9/1).