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Smokin' hot legislation

par Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | September 01, 2013
From the September 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

In case you've been out of the loop I'll get you caught up on the news you need to know: Smoking is bad. You're welcome.

Of course I'm being facetious. I'm sure every single DOTmed Business News reader can agree smoking is one major way to negatively impact your health. Unfortunately, it's highly addictive and still legal, so there are still plenty of people that light up.

It's an interesting state of affairs - smoking related diseases in the U.S. contribute to tens of billions of dollars each year in lost wages and spent on patient treatment. We know thousands in the U.S. and millions worldwide die every year from health issues caused by smoking, yet nearly one in five Americans are considered smokers under the CDC's definition. To combat one of the most significant health issues, legislation is in the works to provide CT lung-screening for those most at risk for certain lung cancers due to an extended history of smoking.

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To be honest, upon reading that news, my first reaction was annoyance. Mammography is offered because about half of the population of the U.S. is female and by that fact alone, have one major risk factor for getting breast cancer. Whereas the CT screenings would provide a service to people that likely knew smoking was a major health risk even before they took up the habit. But like I said, that was my first reaction. Once I considered the points presented in this month's cover story (page 41) I realized even though we're funneling resources to services for people that should know better, it's still a net plus for health care's balance sheets . . . I think. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

After all, there's still ongoing discussion about the investment and return for mammography. The discussion swirls around the cost of screenings per life saved and the emotional question of how much a life is worth. For smokers, making health choices that increase the likelihood of getting cancer, will we say their lives are worth less? If we go that route, won't we need to say the same for people who eat food high in saturated fats?

So that's where we sit. If we don't pay up front for screening, we run the risk of paying more over the long haul for extended treatment and care. In a perfect world, smoking fades out and the screening program goes away with it. I find it hard to believe in that perfect world though. I also find it hard to believe in conspiracy theories; otherwise I might think that big tobacco would love to have this legislation pass that provides some new revenue for health care. Some health care lobbyists in turn, might be less willing to go on any major crusades against tobacco since there's a financial incentive to keep it around. But that may be reaching. It really gives new meaning to the saying, "choose your cancer."


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