Some smokers could be penalized as much as $500 per month in additional health insurance premiums beginning Jan. 1, 2014, as regulations pertaining to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are implemented.
Smokers who are covered under their employers’ group plans will have the option of joining smoking cessation programs and avoiding the tobacco penalties.
The option for individuals to join such a program and avoid premium increases is not guaranteed.
Americans are required to have health insurance by Jan. 1, according to ACA. Those who do not purchase health insurance or have some form of government-provided health coverage will face additional penalties and could have federal income tax refunds withheld.
The current monthly health insurance premium for a 60-year-old male smoker who lives in Maryland, for example, could be more than $1,000; under ACA, that monthly premium could increase to more than $1,500 per month beginning Jan. 1.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average individual health insurance premium in 2012 was $5,615. For a smoker, that average monthly premium would increase from $467 per month to more than $700 per month if an insurer sought the full 50% increase.
Insurers will not be permitted to charge overweight individuals and those with pre-existing conditions additional premiums. Increased premiums for smokers, likewise, are not mandatory.
Under ACA, younger individuals will find insurance rates to be lower than older Americans, so the potential for increased premiums for smokers could be much greater for older smokers.
Karen Pollitz, an individual health insurance marketplace expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, told the Associated Press, “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.”
Individuals who qualify for tax credits to help pay for health insurance premiums will not be able to use those credits to offset any tobacco penalties.
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