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Quitline Promotion to Medicaid Members Who Smoke: Effects of COVID-19–Specific Messaging and a Free Patch Offer

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People who smoke are at increased risk of serious COVID-19-related disease but have had reduced access to cessation treatment during the pandemic. This study tested 2 approaches to promoting quitline services to Medicaid members who smoke at high rates: using COVID-19-specific messaging and offering free nicotine patches. The hypotheses were that both would increase enrollment.


A California Medicaid mailing from October 2020 to January 2021 (N=7,489,093) included 4 versions of a flyer following a 2 × 2 design comparing generic with COVID-19-specific messaging and a no-patch with free-patch offer. The main outcome measure was quitline enrollments. Quit outcomes (attempted quitting, quit ≥7 days, quit ≥30 days) were assessed at 2 months. A subsequent free-patch offer was sent to all members (N=7,577,198) from April 2021 to June 2021. Data were collected in 2020-2021 and analyzed in 2022.


The first mailing generated 1,753 enrollments. Response rates were 0.023% and 0.024% for generic and COVID-19-specific messaging, respectively (p=0.538), and 0.006% and 0.041% for no-patch and free-patch offers, respectively, the latter being 6.7 times more effective than the former (p<0.0001). Quit outcomes were comparable across conditions. The subsequent free-patch offer generated 3,546 enrollments at $40.28 per enrollee.


In a Medicaid mailing during COVID-19, offering free patches generated more than 6 times as many quitline enrollments as offering generic help. COVID-19-specific messaging was no more effective than generic messaging. Offering free patches was highly cost-effective. Medicaid programs partnering with quitlines should consider using similar strategies, especially during a pandemic when regular health care is disrupted.

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