Medicare program helps seniors kick the habit

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Buying a pack of cigarettes these days can cost a small fortune.

Inside the Selma city limits, smokers now pay around 33 cents per pack for just the tobacco tax alone.

As prices continue to rise, more and more adults are taking a good look at their wallets and realizing that it’s time to quit.

One problem is the stop-smoking products, such as nicotine patches and gums, can cost almost the same as a pack of cigarettes.

For seniors who are enrolled in Medicare, however, there is a much less expensive way to break the habit.

Bill Hawkins, a representative for Alabama Quality Assurance Foundation, said his organization is under contract with Medicare and Medicaid Services to help seniors 65 years or older to stop smoking.

The Medicare Stop Smoking Program was created a year ago and provides a variety of free services for its users.

Hawkins said the program offers counseling, nicotine patches and gums, booklets and a telephone information line staffed by professional counselors.

Hawkins said the MSSP has been implemented in six other states besides Alabama, but so far has not been widely used.

Medicare officials have been busy trying to make people more aware of the program before the enrollment deadline ends on Sept. 30.

Seniors interested in joining the program must have Medicare Part B coverage, not be a member of Medicare HMO, be in the Medicare fee-for-service program, live in Alabama and be a cigarette smoker thinking of quitting.

Hawkins said there are benefits for seniors to quit smoking, even after they have been doing it for more than 30 years. These can include improvements in breathing and circulation, as well as reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.

Seniors who qualify and interested in joining the MSSP demonstration project should call toll free 1-866-652-3446.