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A new program, funded by an Affordable Care Act grant, offers some California smokers enrolled in Medicaid $20 gift cards if they participate in smoking-cessation telephone counseling. The gift cards are good at major retailers, including Walmart, Target and Safeway. Participants must simply call the California Smokers’ Helpline, complete the sign-up process, and participate in telephone counseling sessions, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Supporters of the program say it may be able to show that monetary incentives can help improve health and reduce the growth of health care costs. A pilot project found the program doubled the number of calls to the state helpline.

Elisa Tong of the University of California, Davis, one of the researchers, said smoking rates among enrollees in Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid, is much higher than for state residents overall.

Medi-Cal patients who smoke and have chronic health conditions will be invited to take part in the program, the article notes. Some will be randomly selected to receive certificates of completion that can be traded in for free nicotine patches. To encourage callers to stay smoke free, eligible beneficiaries will also receive $10 for every relapse-prevention call they complete.

California has received a $10 million federal grant to pay for the five-year program. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which is overseeing the grant, the program is ultimately expected to engage 20,497 Medi-Cal beneficiaries through telephone counseling. The state also expects outreach efforts to bring in as many as 100,000 callers to the state telephone helpline.

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