Q. I've been trying to quit smoking for years. Is it true that free Medicare preventive services include help with quitting smoking?
Yes, it's true. A provision of the new health care reform law requires Medicare to offer beneficiaries up to eight free anti-tobacco counseling sessions a year starting Jan. 1, 2011. Smoking cessation drugs, however, are not covered under this benefit. If you have a drug plan, your usual copayments would apply.
Even if you've been smoking or using tobacco products for decades, the U.S. surgeon general says it's never too late to quit. Older smokers who give up the habit can reduce their risk of death from heart disease and lung cancer and lower their chances of getting osteoporosis.
Although Medicare has offered this counseling for a few years, patients have been responsible for part of the cost. Research has shown that charging copays for some preventive care services discourages patients from using them.
About 4.5 million people age 65 and older smoke cigarettes, according to the surgeon general, as do another 1 million younger Medicare beneficiaries who are disabled.