Smokers who thought they were getting a sweet deal from ObamaCare may want to think twice before lighting up again. According to the Associated Press, one of the many well-concealed provisions of the bill that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress had to pass “so that you can find out what’s in it” could make health insurance cost up to 50 percent more for Americans with cigarette habits — especially longstanding ones.
The law, known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was — as its name implies — ostensibly designed to make health insurance affordable to Americans. It prohibits insurers from turning down or charging more to individuals with pre-existing conditions and even certain conditions (such as obesity) that increase the risk of health problems.
However, the one condition that the law does not protect from high insurance rates is nicotine addiction — despite the fact that smoking is associated with a number of serious health problems including heart disease and lung cancer. In fact, it specifically permits insurers to charge higher rates to older smokers than to nonsmokers or even younger smokers. Under the law, older adults in general may be charged up to triple what younger ones are charged (which could end up harming the young by hiking their rates). Smokers may, in addition, be charged up to 50 percent more than nonsmokers for their coverage, but younger smokers may be hit with a lesser penalty than older ones. Plus, the subsidies the government provides to offset the cost of insurance purchased on the individual market cannot be applied to the smoking penalty.
Just how expensive could insurance for older smokers become under ObamaCare? The AP ran the numbers:
Take a hypothetical 60-year-old smoker making $35,000 a year. Estimated premiums for coverage in the new private health insurance markets under Obama’s law would total $10,172. That person would be eligible for a tax credit that brings the cost down to $3,325.
But the smoking penalty could add $5,086 to the cost. And since federal tax credits can’t be used to offset the penalty, the smoker’s total cost for health insurance would be $8,411, or 24 percent of income. That’s considered unaffordable under the federal law. The numbers were estimated using the online Kaiser Health Reform Subsidy Calculator.
“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, a nonpartisan research group that called attention to the issue with a study about the potential impact in California.