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Employees Receiving Perks for ‘Butting’ Out

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june3homespunweb.jpgBy Patricia Anstett

RISMEDIA, June 2, 2008-(MCT)-Can’t stop smoking? Your employer wants to help. For the first time, a growing number of companies is offering free or reduced-cost smoking cessation strategies.

What’s in it for you, besides your health?

Your company’s health plan may lower your monthly insurance premium, provide a coach to help you stop or help pay for prescription smoking cessation medicines.

Many businesses have become more aggressive and creative in helping workers quit.

Karen Tillman, manager of the Gardner-White Furniture store in Southfield, Mich., credits Barb Tracey, the company’s vice president, with helping her kick a 20-year cigarette habit.

“She’s a big health nut,” Tillman said of Tracey. “Every time we had a meeting, she kept stressing healthy, healthy, healthy.”

Gardner-White employees receive free counseling, partial reimbursement for smoking cessation products and lower monthly insurance premium payments, once they quit. The company is one of 66,000 firms to sign up since June 2007 for a Humana Inc. plan that provides free coaches to encourage smokers as they quit, a free annual physical, lower monthly premiums and other tools.

Tracey said general wellness programs begun four years ago at the Warren, Mich.-based company have decreased smoking rates about 5 percent among its 350 employees. “The best thing we can do is make the tools available. But like anything else … you have to want to do it.”

Smokers have the best chance of stopping when they work for companies with broad workplace wellness programs and where top executives promote healthy behaviors, experts say.

“You can buy the best program, but if it’s not woven into the overall solution and communication strategy, even the best ones won’t work,” said Dr. Jodi Aronson Prohofsky, senior vice president of operations at Cigna’s behavioral health, wellness and employee assistance programs. The company is working with 120 firms through its smoking cessation program.

When the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., proposed a public smoking ban in 2006-it took effect last fall-more employers called the Priority Health plan for help starting workplace programs, said Betsey Hudgens, wellness coordinator at the Grand Rapids-based Priority Health. The company offers employers a free class; Internet-based smoking cessation aids and partial reimbursement for several prescription drugs.

Health plan coverage varies. Reimbursement for smoking cessation products depends on whether a company offers prescription benefits. The duration or type of coaching may vary, along with incentives and bonuses to those who succeed.

Here’s what a few other plans offer:

Aetna Inc.: One coaching session and a 6-week supply of nicotine replacement therapy (patch, lozenge or gum) after a health status questionnaire is completed.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan: Free quit club; coaches and educational materials. Partially reimburses members for three medicines to help quit: Chantix, Zyban and prescription nicotine patches.

Health Alliance Plan: Partially reimburses for 10 smoking cessation medicines; unlimited in-person or telephone counseling and self-help materials.

© 2008, Detroit Free Press.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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