Under the new healthcare reforms, the law prevents health insurers from rejecting anyone with a pre-existing condition. But, the law still allows insurers to charge higher premiums based on a number of risk factors, such as age, location, family composition and tobacco use.
Tobacco use carries the stiffest penalties, allowing insurers to charge as much as 50 percent higher premiums for smokers than non-smokers under the law. Additionally, the older a smoker is, the higher the premiums are going to cost.
Authorities say that younger smokers, especially those covered by their employers group insurance plans will have an opportunity to attend smoking cessation groups, because these plans operate under different rules. This option won't be available to young smokers buying individual policies.
One in five adult Americans use tobacco, and the share is higher among lower-income people, who also are more likely to work in jobs that don't come with health insurance. These people are more likely to depend on the new federal health insurance law.
It is well documented that smoking can cause lung cancer, exacerbate the symptoms of COPD and other respiratory problems and cause cardiac problems. Older smokers, especially those who have smoked for years are more apt to be showing signs of some of the disease processes caused by smoking.
The problem facing these older smokers is two-fold. First, they are at or near the age of retirement, and looking at a lower income level on the horizon. Secondly, with the prospect of paying 50 percent more for their health insurance, many will find they are unable to afford the premiums.
According to a recent associated press report, a 55 year old smoker could be charged an additional $4,250 a year on top of his insurance premiums, and a 60 year old smoker could pay an additional $5,100 a year more.
This is one issue that has caused tobacco companies and the American Cancer Society to join forces. The American Cancer Society worries that the high surcharges could make health insurance unaffordable to cigarette smokers, who are disproportionately low-income.
If anyone can be successful in doing something about the additional surcharge for smokers, it will be the tobacco companies and the American Cancer Society. They can take the battle to individual states, which have the authority to bar health insurers from considering tobacco use in setting subscriber premiums.