Will Obamacare force more smokers to quit?

The Affordable Care Act will impose large insurance surcharges on tobacco users. But people in smoking-cessation programs will get a break.

By Bruce Kennedy Jan 28, 2013 2:32PM

Image: Man smoking ( Steve Mason/Photodisc Blue/Getty Images)Obamacare bans higher premiums or the denial of health coverage because of pre-existing conditions. But one group will still find themselves penalized: smokers.

The new measures in the Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect next January, would allow health insurance companies to charge tobacco users up to 50% more for individual policies. And the costs of that rate hike would come entirely out of smokers’ pockets.

A recent Associated Press report notes those surcharges, nearly $4,250 a year on top of premiums for a 55-year-old smoker and close to $5,100 for a 60-year-old, could impose a heavy financial burden on individuals with a tobacco habit "at a time in life when smoking-related illnesses tend to emerge."

The ACA penalties could give added incentive to companies looking to sidestep smokers as potential employees.

Smoker protection laws already exist in 29 states and the District of Columbia, but that might be changing. Oklahoma, for example, is considering a bill that would repeal those laws. "These are the kinds of protections you’d think we have for race and gender, not smokers," State Sen. David Holt told KFOR-TV. "Just as a smoker has made a choice, employers ought to be able to make choices too."

Nearly 20% of people in the United States smoke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says smoking also kills more than 440,000 people in the U.S. annually while costing the economy more than $193 billion each year in lost productivity and health care expenditures. And it says secondhand smoke costs -- from healthcare expenditures as well as illness and premature death -- amount to another $10 billion. 

Analysts say those statistics, along with the ACA penalties, are causing the insurance industry to look even closer at smokers.

"If you are an insurer and there is a group of smokers you don't want in your pool, the ones you really don't want are the ones who have been smoking for 20 or 30 years," Karen Pollitz, insurance market expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, told AP. "You would have the flexibility to discourage them."

But there is optimism the ACA measures could also help more smokers kick the habit. The CDC says more than two-thirds of all smokers want to quit completely. And the American Lung Association notes all new private insurance plans under the ACA must cover treatments to help smokers quit smoking.

And as the Washington Post’s Wonkblog points out,, ACA wouldn’t allow insurers to apply the full penalty against a smoker enrolled in a quit-smoking program. 

"We don't want to create barriers for people to get health care coverage," California state Assemblyman Richard Pan told AP. "We want people who are smoking to get smoking cessation treatment.”

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Jan 28, 2013 7:24PM
You idiots voted him in, now your getting just what you deserve, so stop whining about it. You wanted "free" stuff. Oh wait, they have to raise taxes to pay for the "free" stuff? Well you should have thought about that before you voted for a president just because he was "black." I'll be moving to a state that has nullified obama-care and don't even think about following me. You ruined your state, deal with it and don't ruin mine.
Jan 28, 2013 6:12PM
Hi. Welcome to the ER. We'll be taking hair, blood and urine samples to determine if we can treat you under the terms of whatever mandatory health plan you chose. If you test positive for nicotine, alcohol or illegal drugs, we'll be kicking your *ss to the curb. Have a nice day and thank you for using Obamacare.
Jan 28, 2013 3:28PM
Time to start making overweight people carry a card so that they can be taxed more at the fast food counter since the statistics are much worse for them than the smokers. Where are the beaurocrats going next in their central planning.
Jan 28, 2013 5:51PM

Welcome to the beginning of the slippery slope. They will be getting to the rest of you who have other bad habits shortly.


Ok, maybe THINK about this some...  "Obamacare" will impose surcharges on smokers and thus make their health insurance costs go up...  sounds good and right to many, I am sure.


I think... WRONG!  This is a really bad idea, folks.  I don't smoke, saw several close relatives and many friends die painfully and horribly due to direct outcomes associated with life-times of cancerettes, and I've seen and worked with many others who suffer the impacts, etc. etc. etc.   Seems that I should like to see smoking END, and YES, I most certainly DO.  But using this imposed smoker's surcharge to coerce foks to quit smoking is still a really bad idea.  Not because it can't work - it likely can!  And not because smoking is in any way actually "a trivial impact on people's health and societal costs", which it most certainly is NOT.  But because doing this opens the door and sets a national precedent for ANY OTHER similar attempt by some to coerce part of society to change their behavior.  And, while we all want some to change their behavior in some ways, YOU, too, may suddenly find this sword may cut at YOU. This can happen to smokers now - what about YOU later on?


This uses the "logic" that smoking impacts both the smoker and all those who share the insurance pool paying for his/her costs - very true, far as this goes.  But this same logic can be erected to "fix" any number of other behaviors... Do you drink alcohol, like soda-pop, eat fast-food and "junk food", have "unprotected sex", watch lot's of TV, play video-games, etc.?  ALL of these things are known, claimed, or believed to put folks at higher risk for various health problems.  So, to some, each and all of these may well be behaviors which should be changed "for the greater benefit of us all", "as I don't want to pay for YOUR habits and bad behavior".


Oh, and yes, insurance companies have always looked for and created ways to exclude some from insurance pools - sky-dive or SCUBA or drive race-cars? Hey, pay more for life insurance, even if you are on average in better health than your age-group.  But you also have the freedom of shopping elsewhere for the "best deal" or even not buying that insurance.  Smokers don't have that luxury under Obamacare - gotta buy the insurance, and gotta pay a surcharge regardless of whom you get insurance from (so, no option to "not have it", AND no option by shopping around).  Not FAIR.


Just suggesting folks think about this... 

Jan 29, 2013 9:47AM
Jan 28, 2013 3:33PM
First smokers, then the morbidly obese, then the obese, then the overweight, then the body builder will need to prove they are not obese or overweight, then the promiscouis, then the meat eater, then the vegan.  

The point is once you start down the path of defining who should pay more and IF they can change, I know some smokers who have been trying to quit for years and cannot because of the addictions, and do change there will be a need to replace those funds and the next group or groups will be targeted.  The real truth is insurance companies take this into account now and if they enact penalties for certain groups you SHOULD expect substantial reductions to policies which are no longer supporting the 'bad' activities of others.
Jan 29, 2013 12:13AM
Now that Washington state and Colorado have passed legal marijuana laws, are these people who use it also subject to the smoking law?
Jan 28, 2013 3:46PM
What would the government lose in tobacco taxes? How about the states like New York and New Jersey that have heavy sin taxes. If everyone quit smoking, those taxes would have to be made up somewhere. You can bet that everyone will be paying higher taxes. What if all those ex smokers live ten years longer? That would definitely have an impact on social security and medicare. Guess Obama didn't really think this one through.
Jan 29, 2013 9:44AM
I guess the air we breath is the next thing to be taxed, they got everything else covered. WE THE PEOPLE need to tell Obumer and his henchmen to F-------ck off, and kick their sorry asses to the curb period.
Jan 28, 2013 9:37PM

I smoke but dont have any health issues.  Im penalized to the extreme to buy mandatory health care.  Ill sign a DNR or something to effect that I agree not to ask for health services.  My choice to die without all your excessive, overpriced health care.   and my cig taxes are greatly appreciated and raised every year by the state and feds. Nice touch

Jan 29, 2013 9:52AM

Soda pop drinkers are next. then overweight people.  You caused your diabetes etc.

The list will not end.  Commen sense said we should not let the government have our healthcare, but then again we no longer have commen sense.  After all, we just tossed a 5 year old girl out of school for talking about her Hello Kitty bubble gun.  We are doomed.

Jan 29, 2013 8:18AM
People don't know how to live correctly, so it's up the government to show them, and to tell them how to live correctly.  Smoking, drinking, eating too much, drinking big sodas, football, gun control, biking without a helmet, etc.  Thank goodness our government knows just what we need!  :o)
Jan 28, 2013 2:49PM

We can also thank Chief Justice Roberts for this mess.....Hang on, this health care reform is going to end up reforming all of us.

Jan 29, 2013 9:54AM
limo pat your a friggin IDIOT, Your leader obummer is a smoker O wait he gets health care for the elite as do the rest of the worthless politicians. Whose the FAT CATS now IDIOT.
Jan 28, 2013 9:50PM
For those who seem to think that only the repubs smoke, try this on for size:  A study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) finds that individuals who identify themselves as Republicans report lower rates of poor health than those who identify as Democrats. The study appears in advance online as a research letter on March 5, 2009 on the International Journal of Epidemiology website.  After controlling for demographic and socioeconomic factors, the study found that Republicans were 26% less likely to report poor health than Democrats. Republicans were also 15% less likely to be smokers compared with Democrats.
Jan 28, 2013 2:57PM
Is the recently legalized pot included in the dictate? And how about snuff?
Jan 29, 2013 3:57AM
lets do it ;.   obama ****/ check and see how many people die of carbon monocside poison every year as a result of cars on the street. latest  toll about 600 a year and alcohol related deaths. lets take alcohol of the market that would save about a million deaths.not to mention insurance rates would almost disapper come on lets put the blame on it all.since cigaretts pay an enormous amount of taxes and alcohol also we could make up the difference by taxing the people even more.lets stop driving and ride bycycles to work lets really cut out all the things that are harmful to us .oh sorry that would mean u would not have a job.i smoke but don't drink alcohol.and i also payed my fair share for health care. if u would have kept your fingers out of soc security and used the money for what it was intended for we would have insurance.also when the tobacco industry was fined billions.you let the states decide what to do with there share of the spoils.it should have been mandatory to use for cancer .not to supply them with revenue for there state.
Jan 29, 2013 9:50AM

Copied and pasted from the CDC website:


More than 75% of health care costs are due to chronic conditions.

Chronic Diseases Are Preventable

Chronic diseases are the most common and costly of all health problems, but they are also the most preventable. Four common, health-damaging, but modifiable behaviors—tobacco use, insufficient physical activity, poor eating habits, and excessive alcohol use—are responsible for much of the illness, disability, and premature death related to chronic diseases.


Do you really believe they will stop with smokers ? 


Jan 29, 2013 9:53AM
One of many surprises this character is forcing upon us!  He delusional.
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