Experts: Smokers may get priced out of health insurance

New tobacco penalties in President Barack Obama's health care law could cost millions of smokers higher premiums.

 Health care for smokers: California Assemblyman Richard Pan, right, wants to prevent insurers from charging smokers more. IMAGEAP Photo: RIch Pedroncelli

WASHINGTON — 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.

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.

"We don't want to create barriers for people to get health care coverage," said California Assemblyman Richard Pan, who is working on a law in his state that would limit insurers' ability to charge smokers more.

The federal law allows states to limit or change the smoking penalty. "We want people who are smoking to get smoking cessation treatment," added Pan, a pediatrician who represents the Sacramento area.

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