Health care law could mean thousands more for smokers - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Health care law could mean thousands more for smokers

Mark Rothstein Mark Rothstein
Ellen Kershaw Ellen Kershaw
Misty Burba Misty Burba

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - As companies like UPS and school systems such as the Jefferson County Public Schools enact new anti-smoking policies, WAVE 3 News is examining some of the implications of the Affordable Care Act.

The federal health care law allows states to charge smokers up to 50 percent more for a health plan than their non-smoking counterparts. University of Louisville law and medicine professor Mark Rothstein estimates a substantial cost for tobacco users.

"It could be on the order of $5,000 a year," Rothstein said.

The American Lung Association and American Cancer Society are among anti-smoking organizations against some of the fine print in the health care law.

The law allows employers and insurance companies to impose a tobacco surcharge. The surcharge for smokers would mean they wouldn't get the benefit that's supposed to make buying insurance through the marketplaces more affordable. Ellen Kershaw of Louisville's American Lung Association said rate increases on smokers' premiums may dissuade them from buying health insurance altogether.

"If people have to pay a lot of extra money for health care, they won't be able to afford it and won't have access to smoking cessation resources," Kershaw said.

States have the option to prevent rising costs associated with surcharges.

"Kentucky has not taken up that issues," said Rothstein. "Risings costs could certainly happen unless Kentucky's General Assembly does something soon."

Out of pocket costs already make it nearly impossible for smoker Misty Burba to afford health care.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Burba. "They already charge enough as it is."

However, it may not be feasible to hold tobacco users accountable if they're not smoking and chewing at work unless they're drug tested for nicotine.

"The assumption is people are going to be on their honor, but you have a $5,000 yearly stake in the matter," Rothstein said. "Nobody to look over people's shoulder is just not a really realistic thing to do."

Several states, including Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island, along with the District of Columbia, have passed laws making sure smokers aren't charged more under the federal law.

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