Smokers, beware: tobacco penalties under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act could subject millions of smokers to fees costing thousands of dollars, making healthcare more expensive for them than Americans with other unhealthy habits.
The Affordable Care Act, which critics have also called “Obamacare”, could subject smokers to premiums that are 50 percent higher than usual, starting next Jan 1. Health insurers will be allowed to charge smokers penalties that overweight Americans or those with other health conditions would not be subjected to.
A 60-year-old smoker could pay penalties as high as $5,100, in addition to the premiums, the Associated Press reports. A 55-year-old smoker’s penalty could reach $4,250. The older a smoker is, the higher the penalty will be.
Nearly one in every five U.S. adults smokes, with a higher number of low-income people addicted to the unhealthy habit. Even though smokers are more likely to develop heart disease, cancer and lung problems and would therefore require more health care, the penalties might devastate those who need help the most – including retirees, older Americans, and low-income individuals.
“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.”
Nearly 450,000 US residents die of smoking-related diseases each year, making the unhealthy habit a serious concern for lawmakers. One legislator is trying to criminalize smoking in his state, while others have raised taxes on cigarettes and the Obama administration has tried to inflict hefty fines upon smokers’ premiums.
Karen Pollitz, a former consumer protection regular, told AP that no insurers want to provide coverage for Americans who have been smoking for decades, and that the penalties might prompt people to abandon the habit.
“You would have the flexibility to discourage them,” she told AP.
But quitting is not easy, and charging older smokers up to three times as much as younger ones could make it difficult for them to seek care in the first place. A 60-year-old smoker charged with the penalty could be paying about $8,411 per year for health insurance, which is about 24 percent of a $35,000 income and is considered “unaffordable” under federal law.
“The effect of the smoking (penalty) allowed under the law would be that lower-income smokers could not afford health insurance,” said Richard Curtis, president of the Institute for Health Policy Solutions.
Ultimately, the law that is meant to make health care more affordable could have the opposite effect on older smokers at a time when smoking-related illnesses usually arise.