NC State’s payroll manager, Blake Kannarr, can sum up all of the reasons he wants to stop smoking, both personal and financial. The most important are his family, including a wife and two teenage sons, and a mother with terminal lung cancer.
With cigarettes at $4.50 per pack, cost is also a factor. And changes in the State Health Plan this year have added to his motivation. All health plan members will automatically have their benefits reduced from the 80/20 level to the 70/30 level in July unless they complete an online form stating that they and all of their covered family members either do not use tobacco or are enrolled in a doctor-approved cessation program.
Kannarr knows he has to take action during the enrollment period from March 15 to April 9, or face more out-of-pocket expenses. “I’d pay more to go to the doctor for any reason, whether it’s related to smoking or not,” he says.
To avoid that, he plans to visit his doctor for a needed checkup, prescriptions for medication to help him stop smoking and a signed physician certification form that will allow him to stay at the 80/20 level of benefits.
Linda Forsberg, director of health plan operations, says Kannarr is on the right track to kick the habit. “Research and the literature show that a primary care physician’s care in conjunction with [cessation] medication has the highest success rate,” she says.
Doctors can also recommend programs that use behavioral counseling to help kick the habit. The only requirement for insurance coverage is that providers are part of the network. “We are not second-guessing doctors,” Forsberg says. “As long as a physician says the patient is in a physician-approved program, we’re taking them at their word on that.”
Forsberg says that co-pays have been reduced for drugs often used in tobacco cessation. Bupropion, a generic version of Zyban, is $10. Varenicline, a generic for Chantix, used in nasal sprays and nicotine inhalers, is $35 instead of $55. Prescription nicotine patches are also on the list of available medications.
The NC Tobacco Use Quitline can provide coaching and free over-the-counter nicotine replacement patches. The quitline is available from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m., seven days a week, in English and Spanish, at 800-QUIT-NOW or 800-784-8669.
Forsberg and Anne Rogers, director of integrated health management for the State Health Plan, will be on hand to provide more information about tobacco cessation during NC State’s Employee Appreciation Day. They will speak at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, March 17, in the Talley Student Center. From 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., benefits advisors will be on hand to answer questions and laptops will be available for employees who wish to complete their online attestation forms.
Kannarr, who once stopped smoking for five years, is thinking about how he’ll find the support he needs to succeed this time.
Back in 1996, he quit cold turkey. A painful coughing fit caused him to nearly lose control of his truck while driving home from a military meeting late one night. “I wadded up my pack of cigarettes and threw them out the window,” he says. After serving as a military project manager, cost analyst and accounting and finance officer, he ran his own business until shortly after the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. That’s the year he started smoking again.
Over the last few weeks, Kannarr has cut back from a pack and a half to three-quarters of a pack per day. “I want to get to a point where willpower is the last step, and I can turn to my support links at that point,” he says. “Turning my focus to my family helps me make any change I want to make.”
He’s already visualizing the additional time he’ll have to go walking, play with the kids and shop with his wife.
Helping care for his mother, who is in hospice care with lung cancer, has affected him. “It’s been painful to watch,” he says. He plans to stay in closer touch with extended family, including his older brother, who stopped smoking. “I know he cares,” Kannarr says.
Co-workers who are former smokers also provide some inspiration. Right around the corner are payroll colleagues Joanie Aitken, who quit three years ago, and Angie McGee-Platt, who stopped two months ago.
On days when Kannarr feels the stress of handling payroll for 16,000 full- and part-time workers, he can talk to someone who understands.