Skip to content

Harkin Welcomes Obama Administration Guidance on Tobacco Cessation

Effort will remove the barriers that prevent Americans from kicking the habit?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released the following statement today applauding the Obama Administration’s move to ensure that health insurers cover a range evidence-based tobacco cessation services, as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

As HELP Committee Chairman, Harkin authored the prevention and wellness measures that are included in the ACA, including the provisions requiring coverage of all clinical preventive services that receive an A or B grade from the United States Preventive Services Task Force without cost-sharing or copays. Tobacco cessation treatments received an A grade from the Task Force. Harkin wrote to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last year to urge the issuance of today’s guidance.

“One of my goals in crafting the‎ Affordable Care Act was to remove the barriers to healthy living.  The guidance issued today does just that by providing Americans with the access to proven tobacco cessation programs,” said Harkin. “With tobacco use one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and a major contributor to public health costs, the Obama Administration’s action will guarantee that insurers cover a critical range of tobacco cessation services, as required by the ACA. The clarity provided today will ensure life-saving support for the millions of Americans seeking to quit.”

In guidance jointly prepared by the U.S. Department of Labor, HHS, and Treasury, the Administration stated that it will consider a group health plan or health insurance issuer to be in compliance with the ACA if the health insurance plan or issuer covers screening for tobacco use without cost-sharing, and if at least two tobacco cessation attempts per year are covered. According to the Departments, coverage will be provided for four tobacco cessation counseling sessions of at least 10 minutes each without prior authorization, as well as all FDA-approved tobacco cessation medications for a 90-day treatment regimen when prescribed by a health care provider without prior authorization.

In addition to authoring the ACA provisions that guarantee access to cessation services and support community-based interventions to prevent tobacco use, Harkin has long been a champion for preventing tobacco use and supporting cessation. In 1998, Harkin introduced the first comprehensive, bipartisan bill to give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco.  Harkin was an original cosponsor of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which banned candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes and misleading health claims such as “light” and “low-tar.” It also required tobacco companies to disclose the contents of tobacco products and empowered the FDA to require changes in tobacco products. 

As chair of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds HHS, Harkin has long advocated for increased investment in tobacco prevention and cessation work.  He secured $210 million for the Office of Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a $20 million increase over FY 2013.  This amount was more than enough to fully replace the damaging sequester cuts in FY 2013.  These funds supported the remarkably effective Tips from a Former Smoker ad campaign which is estimated to have inspired 100,000 Americans to quit smoking.