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 29, 2013 2:34PM
I'm Not into arm-twisting as i read here. we'll that maybe, just as well as that. i don't smoke, but i have friends that do. getting into people's personal rights irritates me.............
Jan 29, 2013 2:33PM
and smokers pay for children's medicaid health insurance, but are now penalized for their own health coverage. how sad
Jan 29, 2013 2:32PM
Jan 29, 2013 2:31PM

So now that Obama has been crowned King again...suddenly we are having reports on what will actually happen in Obama Care.  We are also, suddenly, getting reporting on how bad our economy really is.  The KING is focussing on immigration and not the economy.  We need to all wake up and realize that our media is in the pocket of the democrat party and have supported the King from day one to the detriment of truth and fairness.  God save the King and the rest be damned.

Jan 29, 2013 2:26PM
Here is the dilema:  federal, state and city governments make more money, via cigarette, sales, and corporate taxes, not mention the tobacco court settlement, than do the tobacco companies themselves.  If smoking is so dangerous to public,  Congress and the administration shouldhave the guts to ban it, rather than rather than surreptitiously profit from it.  This is just another example of our decietful government.  Wake up American.  "They came for the jew"and the wealthy and the gun-owner, are you going to say nothing?  Who will speak up when they come for you?
Jan 29, 2013 2:25PM
i didnt vote for him,i think we should impeach him and his vp they are all idiots oh thats right tyrants
Jan 29, 2013 2:21PM

Just wait, all you idiots who voted for this fool, today its the smokers, tomorrow its the overweight. If you are 15 lbs overweight you are border line obese. You will then be penalized just like a smoker as you are now in the majority costing you 4000 to 5000 extra, and its so much harder to loose weight than to quit smoking right? Look around better than 3/4 of this countryand others have become fat an lazy. So get ready to pay up. PS: Order your hovaround soon to get you where you want to go for little or no cost before medicare is broke.

Jan 29, 2013 2:19PM
I hate it when a government wants its people to be healthy. If this is indeed a slippary sloap that will improve a nations health and overall well being of life then we by all means should oppose it. Nobody I know wants to live a healthier more productive life! I cannot believe a government has the audacity to try and improve the people it governs. The thought of that just makes me sick. 
Jan 29, 2013 2:15PM
Why is this so outrageous to so many people?  It's like once the moniker "Obamacare" is mentioned, then everybody starts raving and pounding their chests.  I have no love for Obamacare either, but isn't it extremely common for insurers to charge smokers more?  I'm no expert, but I know this is a very common practice in the industry.

Smoking = Higher health care costs.  That's not something new under Obamacare.
Jan 29, 2013 2:14PM

Why the heck don't they leave people alone what's next .....HUH ? 


Jan 29, 2013 2:08PM

Here's a thought quit smoking??????????

or is that your god given right also like hand guns???????


Jan 29, 2013 2:00PM
Oh just wait.  I happen to know there are companies that are owned by politicians that are developing new tests.  These tests will determine if you eat enough fruit or vegetables, if you exercise regularly. etc.  They will sell these tests to the government...just like the politicians that own or have a high stake in defense companies.  We are going to have to prove to the government that we are worthy of the medical care we are asking for.  This is just the begining.
Jan 29, 2013 1:51PM
If the judicial black robers would have done their job correctly, we wouldn't be discussing any of this crap!
Jan 29, 2013 1:51PM
agree hollywood,  Why is gas 3-4 dollars a gallon?  exxon record profits? meanwhile if you want to jump start this economy how about you gives all a break at the pump, this will help all businesses and service companies as fuel cots have become unmanagable. But i guess we cant do that, as it makes sense, and of course the exxon ceo needs a 28 million dollar yacht,   insane
Jan 29, 2013 1:50PM

Republicans = Retarded & Racist Rednecks.


Burn in hell Neo-Nazis!

Jan 29, 2013 1:49PM
I don't smoke and I DONOT advocate smoking but this isn't fair.  Unfortunaty we will find out the hard way..  The old saying be careful you ask for, you may receive it. 
Jan 29, 2013 1:48PM

All great civilizations must come to an end.

This one is going downhill faster than most.


For the people, by the people??

Jan 29, 2013 1:47PM
Guess Obama didn't tell his sheeple that before the election.
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