Insurer’s stop-smoking program attracts 12,000

TV ads encourage people to join the program

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota is using television ads to recruit smokers into its innovative stop smoking program.

The efforts have paid off. So far, 12,000 smokers (out of an estimated 150,000 covered by the health plan) have signed up for the BluePrint for Health Stop Smoking Program, a telephone counseling program, since it started in 2000.

"We’re getting close to having results. We’re still collecting data and follow-up surveys. We strongly believe that reducing smoking rates is an excellent long-term investment, but it is a long-term investment," says Marc Manley, MD, executive director of the Blue Cross Center for Tobacco Reduction and Health Improvement.

The St. Paul, MN-based insurer conducted a survey of 10,000 members to get information about their beliefs, needs, and concerns about tobacco use. "We found that more than 70% said they would like to quit and that almost 50% had tried to quit in the past year but hadn’t been successful," Manley says.

The insurer has about two million members, some outside the state of Minnesota. According to results of the survey, about 150,000 of them are cigarette smokers. "We’re making a sizeable dent. We’re not dealing with smokers in the hundreds, but in the thousands," Manley says.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota program is different from many stop smoking programs because it is geared to all smokers.

"The program differs from a lot of other telephone-based programs in that we encourage people to call even if they aren’t sure they want to quit smoking. We tell them we’ll work with them when they are ready to quit," Manley says.

To enroll, a smoker calls a toll-free number and talks with a smoking cessation counselor. The smoker takes a questionnaire geared to determine their concerns, motivations, and interest in the questions. The computerized system guides the counselor to discuss a specific topic based on the answers the caller gives to the questionnaire.

The counselors give the smokers individualized advice over the telephone, including strategies to help them quit smoking. The smoker receives a printed guide in the mail and periodic follow-up calls over the next year. They are encouraged to call any time they have questions or need support. The telephone counselors strongly urge the smokers to see their doctors to talk about nicotine replacement options.

The stop smoking program is available to all Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota members at no additional cost. "Our telephone counseling program is a lot like case management over the phone," Manley says. The company is recruiting members to the stop smoking program through ads on Duluth and Twin Cities television stations. The television advertising has generated a much bigger volume of calls than other methods of recruiting, such as mailing letters directly to the members, Manley says.

"The message of the TV ad is simple: We will work with each person without nagging so they can confidently take that difficult step toward quitting and ultimately succeed," Manley says.

In the past, members have used nicotine patches and other methods to quit smoking, but only a small percentage have been successful, Manley says. "Many have not used the resources available to them because they don’t know about them. Research has shown that telephone cessation counseling is a convenient and effective way to quit smoking. This also gives physicians another tool to help their patients who smoke quit," he says.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota purchased the system from New York-based Behavioral Solutions. The counselors are provided by Behavioral Solutions. The company has won numerous awards for its stop smoking program, including the Best of Blue award for health services research for its survey, the first place award for adult tobacco control from the American Association of Health Plans, and a local award from the American Cancer Society.