Smokers to be hit with with heavy insurance penalties under health care overhaul

WASHINGTON (AP) - Here's a possible new cost for people with the cigarette habit.

Experts say millions of smokers could be priced out of health insurance because of tobacco penalties under President Barack Obama's health care law.

The Affordable Care Act allows health insurers to charge smokers buying an individual policy up to 50 percent higher premiums starting next Jan. 1.

According to a source with the Kansas City Health and Human Services, this provision might save some smokers money if their insurer is charging them more than 50 percent right now. The provision was created to balance out the cost.

"There are quite a few manufacturers and businesses now that won't hire smokers because they know it costs them more," Dr. Donald Potts said.

Since retiring, Potts is using his time to help communities work on smoking restrictions. During his career, he was the one smokers came to when they stayed home from work.

"They are sicker, they have more problems, they are less productive," he explained.

He sees the positive in the new provision.

"Hopefully one of the beneficial effects will be that more people try and quit smoking," Potts said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, a 60-year-old smoker could wind up paying nearly $5,100 on top of normal premiums.

Younger smokers could be charged lower penalties under rules proposed last fall by the Obama administration.

Workers with job-based coverage can avoid tobacco penalties by joining a smoking cessation program.

The older smokers buying individual coverage could face a heavy financial hit at a time in life when smoking-related illnesses typically emerge.

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Mitch Weber contributed to this report.

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