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Panel rejects recommendation to mandate smoking cessation coverage

A joint legislative panel today refused to recommend a proposal that would require insurance companies to cover programs to help people stop smoking.

The panel’s rejection doesn’t preclude those who are advocating for the coverage from asking the Legislature next year to adopt it, but it does make it more difficult for them to succeed.

Given the current political climate, the idea couldn’t have been offered at a worse time, one Republican senator said.

“Is the atmosphere conducive to an additional mandate right now? No way,” said Sen. Adam Driggs, a Phoenix Republican who co-chairs the Senate Banking and Insurance and House Banking and Insurance Committee of Reference.

“Do we gain nothing from all the town halls that the congressmen have been doing over Obamacare? This is a little bit of a microcosm of that,” he said.
Driggs and three other Republicans voted against the recommendation. Three Democrats on the panel supported it.

Sen. John McComish, R-Phoenix, said mandates run counter to the idea that people should have the maximum freedom of choice.

“Mandates are kind of anti-Republican, small government and freedom of choice,” he said.

At one point during the hearing, he suggested that advocates show their data to insurance firms and convince them that offering the coverage is wise.

“The mandate was the big problem for them. They weren’t considering the positive impact it could have on the state of Arizona,” said Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, who backed the recommendation.

One of those positive impacts would be a reduction of second-hand smoke and the problems that result from it, she said.

Most insurers already cover smoking-cessation as part of their basic health plans, but not all do.

And that’s a problem, said Brian Hummell, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society.

Hummell said if the coverage is mandated, more people will quit smoking, which will lead to healthier lifestyles.

Groups advocating for the coverage offered reports showing that covering smoking cessation benefits led to a decline in heart attacks, asthma-related emergency room visits and maternal birth complications.

Additionally, quitting smoking leads to increased productivity, less disability and chronic disease and fewer medical expenses, they said.

Six states mandate the coverage.

Hummell said advocates will continue pushing for the coverage next year and will try to find a legislator to introduce it as a bill.

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