Tobacco smoking rates have fallen during the last generation in the U.S., but those who live in poverty and have less education continue to be three to four times more likely to smoke.
The alarming rates also include women who are pregnant and choose to continue to smoke.
New York State recognizes the danger by allowing women who are pregnant and have a child under age 1 to receive Medicaid if they earn up to 223 percent of the federal poverty level – 85 percentage points higher than the standard guideline, said Kristen Holdsworth, manager of corporate communications for YourCare Health Plan.
Next week, the health insurer will launch a new Baby & Me smoking cessation program for pregnant and new moms, with help from a $10,000 Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait grant from March of Dimes, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson. It will join two Mercy Hospital-related clinics and several sites in Chautauqua County to offer the program.
"You don't have to be a YourCare member for Baby & Me but you do have to be Medicaid-eligible," Holdsworth said.
Those who complete the free program will receive up to $200 worth of free diapers.
The 2½-year-old health plan, headquartered in Rochester, focuses on serving Medicaid-eligible people in Erie, Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Wyoming, Monroe and Ontario counties.
Q: Why did you apply for a grant for the Baby & Me – Tobacco Free Program?
A: This program fits right into what we focus on as a health plan, providing holistic care. We realize that our population is susceptible to smoking and other habits you need to educate our members about. … This program so fits into our mission of eliminating disparities and gaps in care, and educating our members about how they can live a healthy lifestyle. If they need help along the way, that's why we're here.
Q: Will the March of Dimes and Johnson & Johnson continue to play a role?
A: They handled the grant. We work with March of Dimes and a number of other local organizations that support this type of service, especially in the Buffalo community. Community organizations are so prevalent and we're looking to work with people to coordinate care.
Q: How will the program work?
A: The grant will allow us to create a new outreach position where we will be able to serve all Medicaid-eligible women. … Our outreach representative and prenatal and case management team will help provide support for a mom throughout the pregnancy. Moms-to-be are going to attend four prenatal smoking cessation sessions. If moms succeed – during and after pregnancy – they can earn up to eight vouchers, each worth up to $25, for free diapers.
Q: For any moms who need to be reminded, how detrimental is smoking when you're pregnant or have a new baby?
A: Smoking, more often than not, can cause premature birth, low birth weight, health complications. When children are older, risks for asthma and other conditions increase. And it's not just detrimental to the baby. We know that smoking is the cause of many types of cancers, heart disease.
Q: The program started in Western New York?
A: The Tobacco Free Program, founded in 2002 and headquartered in Jamestown, has helped approximately 18,000 mothers in 19 states who have earned more than $1.2 million worth of diapers.
Q: How can someone apply?
A: Visit yourcarehealthplan.com, or call 1-844-337-7144. That's where people can start.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon