Trying to quit smoking? Administration clarifies ObamaCare rules

The Obama administration clarified rules Friday regarding plans covered under ObamaCare to help people quit smoking.

Group health plans and health insurance issuers under ObamaCare must provide free tobacco use screening and offer smokers at least two tobacco cessation attempts each year. Each attempt should also include four tobacco cessation counseling sessions and 90-day prescriptions for approved medication to help patients break the habit.

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The clarifications were posted on the Department of Labor's website but were drawn up in collaboration with the Health and Human Services, and the Treasury departments.

While ObamaCare requires most health plans to cover tobacco cessation services, implementing it has been inconsistent, according to the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network (ASC CAN). Smokers have reported difficulties accessing treatments and having to pay for services that should have been free.

Earlier this year, the organization highlighted these problems and asked Health and Human Services to clarify tobacco cessation requirements.

“The Surgeon General’s report released earlier this year asserted that progress in tobacco control is not moving fast enough,” said Lauren Walens, ACS CAN spokeswoman. “Today’s guidance should help accelerate that progress by resulting in more successful quit attempts, which will save lives.”

As chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) included provisions in ObamaCare requiring coverage of clinical preventive services including tobacco cessation treatments. However, he also wrote a letter to HHS last year asking the department to clarify tobacco cessation rules, after it became apparent smokers couldn’t access the treatments.

“One of my goals in crafting the‎ Affordable Care Act was to remove the barriers to healthy living,” he said. “The guidance …does just that by providing Americans with the access to proven tobacco cessation programs.

Curbing tobacco use has been an important part of President Obama’s signature healthcare law. A former smoker, the president has, in the past, acknowledged his struggles to kick the habit.