Medicare Pays to Treat Heart Patients Who Smoke, but Doesn’t Help Them Quit

August 2, 2011
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Cardiac patients who continue to smoke face a risk of death that is up to five times as high as those who quit, according to The American Journal of Cardiology. The longer a cardiac patient abstains from smoking, the better their odds of survival.  But most don’t quit for long. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of cardiac patients who quit start again. More than half start smoking within three weeks of leaving the hospital.

Cardiac patients who continue to smoke face a risk of death that is up to five times as high as those who quit, according to The American Journal of Cardiology. The longer a cardiac patient abstains from smoking, the better their odds of survival.  But most don’t quit for long. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of cardiac patients who quit start again. More than half start smoking within three weeks of leaving the hospital.

Experts quoted by Reuters explain that comprehensive smoking cessation programs for heart attack patients could save thousands of lives annually at a low cost. Indeed, quitting smoking has a similar lifesaving effect as taking medications such as those used to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Yet, Medicare pays a lot for drugs, but little for counseling. According to the Happy Hospitalist Blog:

You know how much Medicare pays for a ten minute consultation to help cardiac patients quit smoking right now?  About $20.  You know how much they pay for Plavix + Lipitor?  Over $3,000 a year.

And what about the cost of those who don’t quit?

And I’m sure these folks all landed themselves back into the hospitals for a very expensive dying process.