Talking Blues

Sure, they're in court fighting the tobacco companies. But just try to get them to pay for a nicotine patch.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield may be leading the fight against the tobacco industry in the courts, but the managed-care giant isn't so gung ho about helping smokers kick the habit. BCBS, a co-plaintiff with the Minnesota attorney general on the landmark tobacco lawsuit currently on trial in federal district court in St. Paul, does not cover smoking-cessation programs.

Amy Pak, a spokesperson for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, says the company hasn't offered quitting assistance--except as an optional benefit--because historically, such programs have had less than the success rate the plan requires for other forms of treatment. But, she adds, "we've found that our definition of success has to change with smoking-cessation programs. We've realized that if you get 10 percent of the people who go through the program to quit, it's great." Pak says Blue Cross/Blue Shield is currently weighing recent medical evidence, including studies of the drug Zyban, an anti-depressant that reduces the urge to smoke. A scientific review committee should be reporting to company administrators within the next few months.

Matt Adams

Allina, the managed-care company that owns Medica, claims to be the first health plan in the state to pay for programs to help smokers quit. But even Allina's new coverage, announced in December, won't take effect until July.

 
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