The 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, gives health insurers the freedom to charge smokers up to 50 percent higher premiums compared to non-smokers. More than six years after the US Congress passed the law, 40 states in the country now enforce higher insurance premiums for tobacco users. Ten states, including New York, California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, have chosen not to require smokers to pay higher premiums for their health insurance.
To this day, however, there’s still debate on whether states should charge smokers higher insurance premiums. The contention is that higher premiums will discourage them from smoking.
The Affordable Care Act was widely hailed as the government’s way of discouraging tobacco use. Smoking is the largest preventable health hazard in the United States, killing approximately 443,000 Americans every year. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that tobacco use costs the country around $194 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity.
The same agency estimates that 16.8 percent of the US adult population smoke cigarettes.
Another contention was that the law could actually help smokers against the abuse of certain insurers. Before the law was passed, insurers were able to charge more than 50 percent more for smokers. Others even denied tobacco users coverage because they were considered high risk. With the Obamacare, there is a limit on how much insurance companies can charge smokers.
Effects on Smokers
On the other hand, a lot of consumer groups are complaining that this campaign is anti-poor. During the deliberations in Congress, many of those who opposed the landmark legislation labeled the act as counterproductive. They insisted that there is no evidence that charging smokers with higher insurance premiums will discourage them from smoking.
Six years after the US Congress enacted the law, numerous studies have shown that Obamacare did not really help smokers to kick the habit.
One study, in particular, revealed that the law has actually discouraged smokers from signing up for insurance. Experts from the Yale School of Public Health said that Obamacare had caused a drop in enrollment in health insurance. Examining data from the Centers for Disease Control and health insurers selling individual market plans, the researchers said that insurance coverage among smokers could have gone up by 12 percentage points had they not been charged for their habit.
Others point out that the law punishes older smokers who are potentially sick. A study that was published in the American Journal of Public Health contends that older smokers would have to pay 46 percent more for health insurance premiums. This puts them in a quandary, as they would not be able to afford the costs of health insurance. Moreover, these are the very same individuals who are in need of health insurance because of their age and potentially worsening health conditions.
So should health insurance for smokers be really high? The debate continues.