Will California Smokers Pay More Under the Health Care Overhaul?

By Stephanie O’Neill, KPCC

(Dale M. Moore/Flickr)

(Dale M. Moore/Flickr)

Perhaps the most popular provision of President Obama’s federal health law is that people cannot be turned down or charged a lot more because they are sick. Obamacare also reduces how much more older people can be charged for insurance.

But the president’s health law permits one group to be charged more — a lot more: smokers. States can allow health plans to charge tobacco users up to 50 percent more for their health insurance premiums.

The provision allowing for a “tobacco surcharge” was designed in part to encourage smokers to quit a habit that often leads to major illness.

The Centers for Disease Control puts the nation’s annual price tag for smoking at more than $190 billion in both medical care and lost productivity.

It’s that price tag that prompts some to support higher health care premiums for smokers. Micah Weinberg is a senior fellow with the Bay Area Council, which researches public policy issues that affect businesses and the local economy. While he says caution is needed to avoid premiums so high that they are unaffordable to smokers, “I think that we need to make sure that there is a strong financial disincentive for people to smoke.” Continue reading