You're never too old to quit smoking, government officials said Tuesday, announcing that Medicare will immediately start covering the cost of counseling for certain beneficiaries who want to quit tobacco.
Medicare's new smoking cessation program "has great potential to save and improve lives for millions of seniors," said Mark McClellan, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Not every Medicare beneficiary qualifies for the new benefit - only those who have an illness caused by tobacco use or complicated by tobacco use.
Medicare officials said Tuesday they did not have an estimate of how much the new program would cost or how many people would be eligible for it. It covers only counseling sessions, not the cost of nicotine patches and gum or products pitched to help smokers quit. About 300,000 senior citizens die annually from smoking-related illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Medicare operated a pilot program for smoking cessation in seven states between November 2002 and December 2004. The official who oversaw it, Jim Coan, said the government paid about $32 for each counseling session, which usually lasted from three to 10 minutes. The maximum amount of claims that could be submitted per participant was four per year.
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