Since last year, the uninsured or under-insured have been SOL when it comes to calling the Department of Health's Washington State Tobacco Quitline. Budget cuts meant the service went from available to all, to available to only those whose health insurance offered cessation coverage.
Including this allocation of funding for the quitline in her most recent budget, Governor Christine Gregoire touts the service as something the state has been neglectful not to offer over the last year.
"Getting our quitline back in business for everyone has been one of my priorities, and I'm thrilled it's happening," Gregoire says in a press release distributed by the state Department of Health this morning. "For the last year we've been the only state without quitline help for people without insurance. That's unacceptable. The Tobacco Quitline truly is a state service that saves lives and money. We must be there when people need help."
Tim Church, director of the Washington State Department of Health's Office of Communications, explains that the state contracts with a Seattle-based company to offer the quitline, with the company also offering the service to several other states. The quitline was christened as part of what Church describes as a "large, comprehensive tobacco prevention and control program," created in 2000 and intended to fund all sorts of anti-tobacco endeavors - from the quitline, to school programs, to ad campaigns. But when the state's budget took a nosedive, much of that funding was lost - meaning from July 1, 2011 until this week the state's tobacco quitline wasn't nearly as inclusive as it's designed to be.
"Unfortunately, starting in around 2009 [funding for the state's tobacco prevention and control program] was getting whittled away because of state budget cuts," says Church. "The last shoe dropped last year." Church says over time "essentially all of that [funding] was cut, including the quitline."
Church says during the unfunded year 6,500 uninsured or under-insured smokers called the quitline only to be turned away. Of those 6,500, nearly half asked for a call back if the operation resumed - a task those with the quitline embarked on this week.
As for specifics on where the funding to resume the quitline is coming from, Church says there was roughly $1.7 million available in the state's Tobacco Prevention and Control account - which includes money from the legal settlement with the tobacco industry in addition to some tobacco tax money. In her budget Gregoire authorized the tobacco quitline to utilize these funds, though Church notes this financial boon will only be enough to cover the service for a year. He notes that "almost literally all" of the available $1.7 million (roughly $1.625 million) will be used to resume the quitline's all inclusiveness, with some additional money dedicated to promoting it.
"While we want to see this service go on forever, right now the funding is only until the end of this fiscal year," says Church.