R.I. Governor Wants Health Insurers to Pay for Anti-Smoking Programs

Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri said he hopes to force health insurance companies pay for an anti-smoking program he wants to cut from the state budget.

Carcieri’s proposed budget would eliminate the state’s $835,000 stop-smoking program and reduce the amount it spends on anti-smoking advertising by $225,000.

The programs, along with increases in the cigarette tax, have helped cut the portion of teens who smoke from 35 percent in 1997 to 16 percent today, Carcieri said.

But he wants health insurance companies to pick up the cost for the stop-smoking program.

“If you really believe this is the solution, long-term, for better, healthier people. … Then the insurers have to get behind this,” Carcieri said.

About three-fourths of the people who use the stop-smoking program have private insurance, and Medicaid would pay for many others, he said.

Carcieri suggested insurers could also encourage people to stop smoking by giving nonsmokers discounts on their premiums.

But spokeswomen for United Healthcare of New England and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island said requiring companies to pay for stop-smoking programs would end up costing people more.

“For every mandate enacted by the legislature, there is an increased cost to employers and health-plan members,” said Debora Spano, spokeswoman for United Healthcare.

Elizabeth Gemski, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society’s New England division, said anti-smoking efforts are too important to be left solely to private companies.

Rhode Island already spends less than 2 percent of the taxes it collects on cigarette sales on its stop-smoking program, she said. To eliminate a program “that saves lives from cancer and other tobacco-related illnesses” would be wrong, she said.