If you're a smoker, this would be an excellent year to kick the habit.
One of the less contentious provisions of health care reform allows health insurance companies to jack the premiums on individual policyholders who smoke by up to 50 percent beginning next January.
Come Jan. 1, 2014, you can no longer be denied coverage because of your gender, weight, health or lifestyle under health care reform.
But if you don't give up smoking, your health insurance could get awfully expensive by this time next year. A 55-year-old smoker could be looking at a premium hike of $4,250 per year, while the smoker's penalty for a 60-year-old could approach $5,100, according to The Associated Press.
Unfair, you say? Consider this: According to a 2011 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, employees who smoke cost their employer's insurance plan more than $10,000 in additional expenses and more than $5,000 in extra premiums annually. Who's picking up that bill? You guessed it: nonsmoking co-workers.
Little wonder that a growing number of employers, especially in health care, are turning down job applicants who smoke and are imposing no-smoking policies inside and outside the office, despite laws in 29 states and the District of Columbia that prohibit discrimination against smokers.
In the big picture, smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke causes 443,000 premature deaths and costs the nation $193 billion in health bills and lost productivity every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Who picks up that bill? We all do, whether we smoke or not.
Younger smokers won't be hit as hard as older smokers by the coming insurance rate hikes under rules proposed last fall by President Barack Obama's administration. And the federal law does permit states to limit or change the smoking penalty as they see fit.
On the bright side, thanks to the broad expansion of preventive care services under the Affordable Care Act, it's pretty easy to find a smoking cessation program through your insurer or employer these days that won't cost you a dime out of pocket.
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