|By Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
That may have something to do with the fact that a majority of Americans are indeed overweight, while only 1 in 5 adults are smokers. But the attitude has implications for health plan policy designs going forward, especially in the Affordable Care Act era.
The federal health care overhaul gives states the option of allowing insurers that participate in the online health care exchanges to charge higher premiums to smokers -- up to 50 percent higher than the standard rate. At least five states and
The eight insurers selling polices in
But it's a move opposed by some odd bedfellows, such as the county's top cigarette makers as well as the
And higher premiums could discourage smokers from buying insurance -- the opposite of the intended effect of the exchanges. (
"We don't want to create more barriers to quitting," said
The surcharge singles out smokers in a punitive way, Ms. Phillips added.
"We're anti-smoking, but we're not anti-smoker," she said
Insurers say that the extra charges make sense from a risk-management standpoint.
"Smoking is proven to damage health in many significant ways and to be very costly to the health system," said
Smokers will more or less be on the honor system when buying the insurance policies -- there's no blood test to determine whether an applicant is indeed a regular smoker. However, if the insurance company later finds out that an applicant is a smoker but lied about it on the application, it can retroactively apply the extra premium and continue to charge it going forward.
It can't cancel the policy, though.
According to the Gallup poll, 58 percent of those surveyed would be in favor of charging higher insurance rates to smokers, but only 41 percent would agree the overweight should be charged more.
Among those who had smoked a cigarette within a week of being surveyed, only 28 percent thought higher premiums for smokers were OK. Meanwhile, 65 percent of non-smokers are on board.
The Affordable Care Act does not allow insurers to charge higher premiums to overweight customers.
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