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 11:04AM
There should be higher premiums for the obese, as well
Jan 29, 2013 11:03AM
Jan 29, 2013 11:02AM

wonder when they will allow those who are on public assistance to get cigarettes on food stamps...?

Jan 29, 2013 10:58AM
You're all missing the point, for the millions of people who will pay nothing for health insurance, this is great news. They can smoke, eat and drink any damn thing they want and know they will be taken care of. Obamacare was a joke from the start, hundreds of pages no one bothered to read, this is just the beginning!
Jan 29, 2013 10:57AM

seems pretty lame coming from a former smoker himself, isnt it always the ones who had the bad habits themselves to come up with the most unfair rules and regulations?????? So do you think this will cause people to stop smoking (point is most will increase the amount smoked due to stress.....)since when does the government feel they have control over ones health and well being? You can own youre own home , but you never truly own it(ty uncle sam ) now you want our bodies too? Why cant someone in the whitehouse figure a way to cure diseased , make the usa a nice place to live, instead of making up these rediculous rules and regulations( dont you think the insurance companies have made enough money)????????????????????? A bear can **** in the woods , but americans (home of the free)??????????????
Stop voting for these president who dash deadlines, make up laws and rules as they go........We The People (need a president who actually gives a ****) and you wonder why people voted yes to making marju****gal ......................................Ty Mr.president......................I VOTE FOR CLINTON

Jan 29, 2013 10:56AM
Wonder what that does for the Doctor who gives out Pot????
Jan 29, 2013 10:53AM
I wonder if there will be a surcharge for illegals that smoke!!!!
Jan 29, 2013 10:50AM

The death panels have started, fat people your next, then the drinkers.

Jan 29, 2013 10:48AM
Jan 29, 2013 10:47AM

What about drug addicts and alcholohics?

Jan 29, 2013 10:47AM
More landmines hidden in the unaffordable care act, say it ain't so joe, say it ain't so!!!!!
Jan 29, 2013 10:44AM

I want to be in line early, for the barcode tattoo on my arm....then they can just scan me and say Oh he is ok, don't smoke , don't drink and don't own a gun.....

 Oh wait they did that 70 years ago, didn't work out well for them.

Jan 29, 2013 10:42AM
This is total discrimination. Why not do the same for overeaters, drug users, and any number of others who don't share his views on health care. For a man who prattles on about equality for all. This seems pretty unequal to me.
Jan 29, 2013 10:40AM
Smokers pay some of the highest taxes in this country already idiots!  It is my personal choice to smoke so **** off!
Jan 29, 2013 10:40AM
This is great. Smokers are in an insurance catagory that is worse than using heroin or meth. Perhaps now some of our starry eyed youth and the "free stuff" crowd will realize that they need to vote for a different party in 2014. 
Jan 29, 2013 10:37AM

Excellent family genes, exercised regularly whole life, eat very healthy, sleep very well, don't drink, ideal BMI, etc.  I smoke and I'll out live 95% of the population.


Being a smoker (by choice) I'm perfectly fine with paying more for coverage, HOWVER, so should those overweight, non-exercising, non-financially responsible (self-induced stress), habitual prescription medication users, alcoholics, etc., should pay more as well.  Yeah I know, life's not fair, too bad so sad for me.  :-)

Jan 29, 2013 10:33AM
Limo Pat states that a lot of people won't like this article because...'it is mostly Republicans
that smoke.'
That in a nutshell sums up the mindset of many liberals.  Wow!!   How ridiculous of a statement is that??  
Limo Pat...or any others that may think this ridiculous claim...how would you know?  Do you know most of the people that smoke in this country? 

Jan 29, 2013 10:30AM
The stat's say low income people smoke more that high income and middle income. They will get subsidized health care or free health care. You will be paying either way. The difference is by letting this start you will let the government start deciding what you eat,drink,drive,how you exercise,what your hobby's are ect . This will all be controlled by the insurance company's to the point that no one will really have insurance. They will charge people higher premiums for less service. They will charge YOU the taxpayer more for the people that can't afford to pay the premiums. You are locked into paying for insurance whether you want / need it or not. The only winner here is the insurance company's. I can't believe people are so blind they can't see this.
Jan 29, 2013 10:29AM
That damn Obamacare, If I choose not to have insurance that's my right. If I choose to be 350 lbs, smoke and get drunk everyday, again my right. If I get a life threatening illness it was my right to get treatment because I couldn't be turned away by hospitals. Now this commie is forcing me to spend money on my own health insurance. This guy needs to go, i sure wish there were smarter people voting in elections. Romney wouldn't have let this happen!!!
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