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Health insurance to burn smokers

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
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.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus

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146 Comments
Gretchen Messer
January 31, 2013 at 10:50 am

I think this is a slippery slope and it makes me wonder what is next. Weight, genetics, alcohol use . . . the list goes on. We will get the basic plan and then pay per health risk??

gladys3
January 31, 2013 at 10:42 am

An article (I think in Reuters)said there would be 2 questions; do you smoke? do you use any nicotine products? You will be charged the penalty rate if you answer yes to either of the 2 questions.

corporate scam
January 31, 2013 at 10:38 am

What a laugh! Reality currently on cobra, got laid off last year, will be on medicare in 5 months. So paying full amount today, well it is $500 per month just went up $50 per month as of the first of the month. Here is really the joke for the $6000 a year I currently shell out for health insurance I get back $20 a month in pills, one lab test for blood work, one yearly check up( weight, heart, lungs, all the normal stuff most people get), and bi-yearly visits to dermatology. The states collected all kinds of money from the tabacco companies and blew it like a drunken sailor, now they are raising the per pack tax and placing the money in the general fund which is spent on subsidies for movie producers to make movies in the state. Not one plug nickel has gone for the reasons the states claim they sued and collect taxes for which was the rising cost of health care from smoking related illness.

corporate scam
January 31, 2013 at 10:32 am

just like utility companies raising rates , when natural gas is at an all time low but they claim it cost them more. When you check the cost of natural gas, the only part that has been rising is utility company to consumer. Or your ever increasing cost of coffee, the price goes up because of this or that shortage or drought, but when supply is in surplus the size of the package looses 3 or 4 ounces and the price remains the same.

joe abernathy
January 31, 2013 at 10:31 am

absolutely...i'm not a smoker either. In your travels i'm sure u've seen the billborards identifying obesity as a "desease" not a choice. In the vast majoity of cases that's BS and everyone knows it. It's just another way our liberal society enables. Of course obesity, alcoholism and drug abuse have no affect on health care costs????

gladys3
January 31, 2013 at 10:20 am

Question: that $10K per yr in xtra expenses & $5K in higher premiums per year...is that per employee who smokes, or based on all employees who smoke?

LD
January 31, 2013 at 10:13 am

UNFAIR! Fat people cost businesses and Insurance companies way more!

More people are obese than smokers. Diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure issue and so much more are caused by being overweight if increase rates for smokers than they should increase rates for overweight people

dan
January 31, 2013 at 10:10 am

Buddy, Thanks I've been A smoker for 42yrs. tired of hearing how bad smoking is for me I enjoy a cig. what you said- I couldn't have said it better Thanks Again

Toni Wilson
January 31, 2013 at 10:07 am

Is any difference for health insurers if you are a e-smoker?

Buddy
January 31, 2013 at 9:56 am

If I was a smoker which I am not I would cancel my health insurance and let the government pay for my health care. I have a question. How do they know smoking causes 443,000 deaths a year? It could be 443,001 or 250,000. How about insurance for the obese, drug addicts,and alcoholics. They are costing insurance companies a fortune but they are OK. If I was a smoker I would start a campaign to unite against the prejudices that smokers are faced with. Are the obese, drug addicts, and alcoholics better than they are.