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Health insurance to burn smokers

By Jay MacDonald ·
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Posted: 10 am ET

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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January 29, 2013 at 6:48 pm

My employer now requires a blood test to make sure we are not lying when we check "non smoker" on the annual enrollment.

January 29, 2013 at 6:41 pm

stating a precedent here , whose next , whats next , do we need to submit our eating habits, social interests , feel free to add to the list.. on another note , what if everybody quits smoking, thats a lot of tax dollars that will need to be replaced.

January 29, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Smoking causes cancer not only in the smoker but by second hand smoke to the non-smokers. Fat people only hurt themselves. Thus smoking causes us all more $ in the way of health care for all the smoking related cancers. Thus if you decide to smoke, pay the piper.

January 29, 2013 at 6:06 pm

I see this as discrimination. I am a non-smoker, but what will they do next, come after the overweight? If you are overweight, this could cause heart problems, diabetes, problems with your back and other joints. How will they know if you smoke or if you are overweight? Will everyone have to take a blood test to prove you are telling the truth before you get insurance?

January 29, 2013 at 5:32 pm

We all pay for everything. What about some of the Politics who are crooked. The Presidents who make Promises who don't follow through they come after the WEAK. Its easy to point the finger because thier is so many smokers and the smoking Industries make so much money. So we pay of course thier going to come after us. Its all about Money!!The USA who borrow so much money from China,and giving to other countries,no wonder were broke. The Rich protect the Rich.

January 29, 2013 at 5:21 pm

People can lie all they want. However, the truth will reveal itself whenever they are in need of treatment. Then they will be unable to lie, they will lose their coverage and perhaps be charged for insurance fraud.

They should underwrite the insurance in more positive way. Charge the same rate to all and give discounts for those who do not smoke and those who maintain a healthy weight.

January 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm

"Who picks up the bill? We all do." Isn't that what a democracy is about? I pick up the bill for the overweight, the disabled, the infertility couple, the alcoholics, the diabetics, the uninsured and the underinsured. Perhaps we should all be accountable for our actions and realize that everyone's lifestyle is different. What will you do when your bad habit is taxed, will you stand up for your lifestyle then?

January 29, 2013 at 4:53 pm

What about overweight people? I would imagine that being overweight causes more problems??

January 29, 2013 at 4:43 pm

How will this be regulated? People will just lie and say that they are non-smokers so their rates won't go up.

January 29, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I'm in my early 60's. I have never smoked. How does the insurance company really know if I am a non-smoker? What's to stop them from increasing my rates by simply listing me as a smoker? Will I have to incur some expense to prove I am a non-smoker?