Still Smoking? Gonna Cost You

Most people are going to benefit from Obamacare.  But not smokers, many of whom will be paying 50% more for health insurance, according to Kelly Kennedy at usatoday.com. The saddest part? It may hurt the poor the most.

Kennedy notes that an estimated 29% of adults with incomes below the federal poverty level smoke, vs. 18% of those above.

"Smokers – and chewers – in some states may have to pay as much as 50% more in premiums than non-smokers if they sign up for insurance through state health exchanges that open next month, according to provisions in the Affordable Care Act," she writes.

It's the old argument.  Tax the people who smoke so much, they'll throw their cigarettes away.  But as with soda and junk food and other things that are bad for us, rarely does this work.

Kennedy gives the example of a 25-year-old single man, who, under the new health exchanges, might be charged a premium of $150 a month.  But if he's a smoker, that could go up an extra $75 a month. "Older people, who can be charged as much as three times more as young people, could be hit much harder if states choose to enact the new smoking rule," she reports.

Fighting back, opponents of the rule say smoking is an addiction, like an illness, and we don't charge people for cancer or heart disease.  But supporters say smokers cost more because they require more healthcare services, over their lifetimes, and getting them to quit will not only save their lives, but money for the rest of us, too.

Yesterday I noted that the graphic new ads put out by the government of people sickened by cigarettes has done more than just about anything to get folks to quit.  So far,more than 200,000 of them have, with another 100,000 predicted to, in the next few years.

But charging smokers more is already happening. Forty-four states already allow insurers to charge extra for smokers, including for chronic health conditions, Alwyn Cassil, a spokeswoman for the Center for Studying Health System Change, told Kennedy. "However, higher fees for chronic conditions will no longer be legal after Jan. 1 because the 2010 health care law forbids insurers from charging higher rates for such conditions," Kennedy points out.

That means, Kennedy quotes Cassil, that smokers with chronic conditions will at least save money because "they won't have to pay higher premiums for having health problems even if they have to pay a penalty for using tobacco. While it's not the best situation, it's going to be a heck of a lot better than it was before," Cassil said. "It may be that they're priced out now."






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