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Smokers Hit with Hefty Obamacare Penalty

While the Affordable Care Act – dubbed Obamacare by critics – has aimed to make healthcare more accessible to millions of Americans, tobacc...

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|Jan 26|magazine4 min read

While the Affordable Care Act – dubbed Obamacare by critics – has aimed to make healthcare more accessible to millions of Americans, tobacco penalties are now threatening to exclude a large portion of the eligible population: smokers. Currently, one in five adults living in the U.S. smoke tobacco.

A provision in the legislation, proposed by the Obama administration last fall, is now drawing attention and criticism from experts who warn the penalties could make care too expensive for some potential customers.

Beginning in 2014, health insurers would be able to charge 50% higher premiums on policies covering current smokers. Though younger smokers would likely face lower penalties, older smokers – those that have kept the habit for 20 or 30 years – would receive the brunt of the cost increases. The penalty could reach nearly $4,250 a year for a 55-year-old smoker and over $5,000 a year for a 60-year-old smoker, the Associated Press notes.

In addition to the 50% penalty, insurers would be able to charge older adults up to three times the premium of younger customers, and government tax credits made available to pay premiums would not be applicable to the penalties enacted on smokers. All together, this paints a bleak picture for older smokers.

States will have the ability to limit or change the penalty under federal law. California state Assemblyman and pediatrician Richard Pan told the AP, "We don't want to create barriers for people to get health care coverage.” But, he added, “We want people who are smoking to get smoking cessation treatment.”

Smoking contributes to nearly 450,000 deaths a years in the U.S., and increases the chances of developing heart disease, lung problems and cancer.