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 5:12PM
While I am not for bigger government in any way, I am also not into paying more for my insurance because people choose to do stupid things like smoke and over eat. Sorry, but if you choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle then you should pay for it yourself and stop being a burden to those of us who are trying to be healthy. Smoking is your right but covering ALL of it's affects should go along with it. Why should my health care cost more because you were stupid enough to become a smoker???
Jan 29, 2013 5:11PM

This reminds me of the "Salem Witch" hunt and Germany burning books and the Holocaust. over religion. I've been reading the comments of people wanting to "oust " the smokers. Make them [Smokers] pay more for their habits. But, what I see is our freedoms and liberties are being taken away. Lawmakers has begun with the smokers with "penalties" and now campaigning against the obese. (Their penalties will probably be coming soon). Next penalties will probably be the alcoholics and so on. So those that think that this legislation is not going to effect you- well give it time and it will. To mandate health insurance and then penalized one group is discrimination and therefore taking away each persons liberties and freedom.

Note: Discrimination "thou shall not discriminate against race, religion, and age" but can discriminate against everything else ? I wonder where your priorities are.

Will Obamacare force more smokers to quit? No! He will only cause descent people to brake the Obamacare law and refuse pay the healthcare mandates. Prohibition and equal rights all over.

Jan 29, 2013 5:05PM
So you can test people for nicotine regarding health insurance premiums, but you can't test welfare recipients for drugs?  Good one.
Jan 29, 2013 5:04PM
What does Obamacare do for all the illegal drug users out there and their premiums. Nothing i am sure, because most of them are on medicaid already.  You think the problems smokers add to healthcare system is high, just imagine all the druggies out there. Years ago i worked at a small hospital in an inner city and these people play the system to the max. 
Jan 29, 2013 5:01PM
male homosexuals may be next. The tendency of this group to acquire AIDS, a very expensive disease to manage would most likely receive a rate hike as well.
Jan 29, 2013 5:01PM
sounds good to me, you shouldn't be smoking to begin with. I'm sure as hell not going to pay for your idiotic behavior!
Jan 29, 2013 5:00PM
Here is how the Democrat party is going to end. It's already starting. When Obama Care gets fully implemented the people who are paying for insurance are going to get the same treatment as those who don't pay anything. Imagine paying 17K a year for lousy insurance like I do now. If I get sick or go to the hospital a few years from now everyone is going to be treated the same. Blacks in this country are going to feel like they are getting one over on whites. No different than saying rich should pay their fair share. I am going to have to wait in the emergency room to see a doctor and my wait will be extended because some minority will be riding an ambulance because she hasn't had her period in three months. 

Don't laugh. This happens every day. Just ask any hospital administration staff that admits patients. You see if your a minority you can call an ambulance, get a free pregnancy test and not pay a thing. If you go to the drugstore it costs $20 for a pregnancy test. If you go to the emergency room it's free. If you don't have a ride call an ambulance. 

The big problem is there are more payers into the health care system than non payers. When the payers get tired of being treated like they are at a NY license bureau they will change their vote. People are going to die because of Obama Care. You will see. 
Jan 29, 2013 4:59PM
Obama played the diversion technique with healthcare.

What he said:
 He says we NEED healthcare reform because of his list of 8 things (preexisting conditions, bla bla bla) and that 30K people, most of whom can afford insurance of are here illegally are without HC. He says we can keep our doctor (yeah right).

What we will get:
He out laws catastrophic care insurance (that covers you only if you get a disease or get in an accident) for cheap price
He taxes the heck out of medical device manufacturers.
He makes you pay for services you will never use (50 year old guy pays for mammogram)
Smokers get hosed.

Thanks a lot OBAMA VOTERS.
Jan 29, 2013 4:59PM

So wait, couldn't you smoke all your life, forego insurance and pay the small penalty, then quit smoking or start a cessation program when you get diagnosed with lung cancer and pick up insurance because they can't discriminate against a pre-existing condition?



Jan 29, 2013 4:58PM

Yes, the US govt. still subsidizes tobacco farmers.

Tobacco Reform Act of 2004:
"Section 623 of the Act provides that USDA will offer to enter into a contract with an eligible tobacco producer (Grower) under which the Grower may receive total payments of up to $3 per pound of quota in 10 equal annual payments in fiscal years 2005 through 2014 (Grower Payments)
Section 622 of the Act provides that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will offer to enter into a contract with an eligible tobacco quota holder (Owner) under which the Owner may receive total payments of $7 per pound of quota in 10 equal annual payments in fiscal years 2005 through 2014 (Owner Payments)."

Read more:
Jan 29, 2013 4:58PM

If this is true, then can't a smoker sue the insurance company for being racist against smokers?  Just wondering since my black lungs will be penalized over your pink ones....

Jan 29, 2013 4:55PM
Knowing that a higher percentage of smokers are low income than are high income, Congratulations, Obama, you figured out a way to tax the poor without anybody realizing it!
Jan 29, 2013 4:54PM
Who's next all the fat people.  What about all the alcoholics.  Maybe they will charge more for anyone that has a weapon in their homes.  The list goes on and on.  No wonder the politicians opted not to have Obama care.  Did you know muslims don't have to sign up either. 
Jan 29, 2013 4:53PM
obama, Hey how about the pot smokers and drinkers. Oh I forgot that is your pass time, and you dont want to tick off your buddies. RIGHT?
Jan 29, 2013 4:52PM
And you democrats were all butt hurt when we said Obama is taking away our freedoms.
Jan 29, 2013 4:52PM
Smoking is a preexisting condition, thus it should be covered by Obamacare at no extra charge. Any lawyers out here want to take this on ?
Jan 29, 2013 4:50PM
SO HAPPY our Corporate Puppet-in-Chief is exempt from this stipulation--since he and congress will have much better insurance and they can keep smoking and doing whatever they want with no consequence. Funny how they value their own freedom of choice but no ours.
Jan 29, 2013 4:49PM
My only problem with this is that , what happens to the many ,many,many smokers who already and in future will NOT be paying anything for their health care? What penalty are these people going to pay???? 
As it is I pay $5,000.00 a year in health insurance  I do not smoke, however when i recently had a colonoscopy , I had to pay an additional $200 , while my neighbor on food stamps and medicaid paid $0000. 
Just because i made a little money last year  under $35k.
Jan 29, 2013 4:49PM
It's a good thing that the politicians opted not to have this Obama health care, which is only for us peasants.  I just hope that all you idiots that voted for this socialist will get yours very soon.
Jan 29, 2013 4:47PM
We live here in washington state have a new demo governor and 2 demo woman senators.  I asked them if they where exempt from obamacare and they would not even answer the question.  My mother-in-law 86 years old in good health makes $1100.00 a month owns her home.  We tried to get her food stamps.  They told us she was only required to receive $16.00 a month because she was not eligible to work.  Thank the democrats.  But if you are from down south with a bunch of kids. I seen as munch as $400.00 paid for by the food stamp card.  Most of the women had those $2-300.00 hair does with very nice cars.
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