Thursday, January 24, 2013

Obamacare penalties could leave smokers without healthcare

From the AP:
Millions of smokers could be priced out of health insurance because of tobacco penalties in President Barack Obama's healthcare law, according to experts who are just now teasing out the potential impact of a little-noted provision in the massive legislation.

The Affordable Care Act -- "Obamacare" to its detractors -- allows health insurers to charge smokers buying individual policies up to 50 percent higher premiums starting next Jan. 1.

For a 55-year-old smoker, the penalty could reach nearly $4,250 a year. A 60-year-old could wind up paying nearly $5,100 on top of premiums...

Nearly one of every five U.S. adults smokes. That share is higher among lower-income people, who also are more likely to work in jobs that don't come with health insurance and would therefore depend on the new federal healthcare law...

Several provisions in the federal law work together to leave older smokers with a bleak set of financial options...

First, the law allows insurers to charge older adults up to three times as much as their youngest customers.

Second, the law allows insurers to levy the full 50 percent penalty on older smokers while charging younger ones less.

And finally, government tax credits that will be available to help pay premiums cannot be used to offset the cost of penalties for smokers.

“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.

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